The Magical Menorah in June

In the section of the Torah we read this week, Aaron is reminded of his responsibility to light the Temple Menorah. The Torah continues to mention that the Menorah was "mikshah," or "from one piece." The rabbis comment that this Hebrew word also implies "difficult." They tell us a story that Moses was unable to fully grasp how to make the Menorah, and so God had to create one out of the fire, to demonstrate.

Of all of the complicated vessels made for the Tabernacle, why was this the only one that Moses had trouble with?

This commandment, for Aaron to take care of lighting the Menorah, follows right after the sacrifices brought by the princes of the tribes in honoring the dedication of the Tabernacle. Rashi tells us a story:

Aaron saw the wonderful sacrifices brought by those princes, and felt a bit inadequate. What would be his contribution? And so, God explained that Aaron, indeed, as a greater portion, for he will light and improve the candles of the Menorah!

Now, we would never diminish the importance of the Menorah, but why is this the consolation? After all, there are many ceremonies that Aaron will be responsible for, especially Yom Kippur! He is the only one who goes into the Holy of Holies! Why not cheer him up with that?

The rabbis, in telling us this story, may be giving their stamp of approval to something that happened far in the future. We are more familiar with the Menorah from the Chanuka story than we may be from the tabernacle. There are two elements about the Menorah, if we include the Chanuka one, that differ from the sacrifices of the princes.

First of all, the Menorah with its Chanuka extension, is the only Temple vessel that has lasted throughout the generations. The sacrifices of the princes, as wonderful as they were, were a one-shot deal.

Secondly, and most significantly, the Menorah symbolizes victory over assimilation. This was the essence of the Chanuka story, the stopping of the Hellenistic influence over the Jews and the restoration of Judaism as our source of values.

Chanuka, in the hierarchy of Jewish holidays, is towards the bottom in importance. It is not even biblical in origin. Nonetheless, statistically it is at the very top of the charts when it comes to observance percentage. Most Jews observe Chanuka. One could explain it on the basis of its proximity to the Christian holidays, but that would be an injustice to Chanuka. It is not a "me, too," holiday!

I believe that this is a spiritually miraculous statistic. For most Jews, Chanuka is when they remember their Jewish identity. It is the final cord that connects them to their people, and will continue to do so forever, until the Messiah comes.

The miracle of Chanukah was brought about by the descendents of Aaron, the priestly Macabbees. This was Aaron's consolation, that his actions would inspire Jewish connection in the face of assimilation throughout time. Not bad!

I believe it was this element that was difficult for Moses to understand. It could not be the physical requirements of the Menorah that were difficult, for Moses was the wisest man. It was the spiritual essence, the question of how to transmit Torah and wisdom in such a way that they would withstand the spiritual assault of a non-believing or alternative-believing world.

The Menorah symbolizes wisdom. The seven branches are the seven disciplines of wisdom, with the central branch being the wisdom of the Torah. How to combine them? Do not science and Judaism conflict? When the world says that up is down and light is dark, and wants to believe that, how can we show them otherwise?

All of this is what concerned Moses. And God answered him! He showed him a Menorah made of fire, and told him to make that.

I believe that fire, in this story, symbolizes a burning sincerity and devotion to spreading God's word. God is telling Moses that the most influencing factor is his own heart. If the fire burns there, and he presents Torah, the light of Torah, in the most beautiful way he can, it will continue to burn throughout the generations. Sooner or later, that light will illuminate every Jewish heart.