The Menora: A Lesson in Subordination to God


Moshe Ben-Chaim



This week’s Torah portion “Truma” outlines the Temple and the various vessels housed therein. Of considerable detail is the Menora, the structure of which includes mandatory decorations of cups, knobs and flowers, unlike the other vessels: the Ark, the Table or the Altars. It possesses seven branches, six of which emanate from the center stem with identical design requirements; three branches on each side of the center stem. The seventh, center stem contains more designs than the others, and the entire Menora was required to be hammered from a single block of gold: it could not be made piecemeal and assembled.

Not too much information or explanation is readily available about these designs, but as we research the Menora, we start to learn of a few references to Menora in the Torah. I wish to cite these references, and try to understand their uniting theme.

The Menora is one of three institutions over which Moses was perplexed. The Talmud states that a fiery Menora descended from heaven to convey its form to Moses. (Menachos 29a) What is the meaning of this statement?

Perhaps the most popular source of the Menora is the holiday of Channukah. After the Jews won the war, they returned to resume Temple service by lighting the Menora. Finding insufficient, pure oil to last eight days until they could press new oil, God created the famous miracle where one day’s supply of oil lasted those eight days. Unable to light each day was not the Jews’ fault, so we wonder the need for such a miracle, as the Jews were already victorious. It is not a miracle that saved the Jews, nor was it needed. Why then did God perform this miracle?

Parshas Beha-alosecha commences with the command of Aaron lighting the Menora. This follows the inauguration of the Tabernacle (Temple) as the first service. Why is Menora the first service?

On Shabbos Channukah we read the Haftorah of Parshas Beha-alosecha found in Zechariah. It describes God’s promise to enable the reconstruction of the second Temple through Darius, Queen Esther’s son. In this portion of the Prophets, Zechariah sees a vision, part of which reveals a golden Menora. Zechariah also sees olives which on their own, are miraculously pressed and provide golden oil for the Menora. The lesson according to Rashi is that just as this vision of the olives required no man to press oil from them, so too, no man will be required to create the situation where the Temple will be rebuilt, as the verse states, “not by an army and not by strength, but by My spirit, says God of hosts.” Meaning, this part of the vision is an analogy to future events: just as man is unnecessary to create oil and light the Menora, man is equally unnecessary to enable the situation to rebuild the Temple; God alone will accomplish this. The question is what does the Menora have to do with God’s message to Zechariah? The Menora’s presence seems arbitrary. Any item could be used to convey God’s message…why a Menora?

However, we notice in all three of these sections, a Menora is found, and the section is dealing with either resuming temple service (Channukah), initiating Temple service (Beha-alosecha) or the rebuilding of the Temple (Zechariah). What is this central role of the Menora, when the Ark is truly the focus of the Temple, as it houses the Torah? Additionally, while donning Tefillin each morning, we recite these words: “and the good oil pour out on the seven branches of the Menora, to spread forth Your goodness to Your creations.” What is this statement’s meaning? What does the Menora have to do with God pouring out Hs “good oil” (goodness) to His creations?

One more matter is essential to our discussion: Sforno’s explanation for the very need for Temple. Of course, Temple is not “for” God, as God needs nothing. Temple is for man. But as Sforno taught, Temple was a response to the Golden Calf. The Jews expressed an idolatrous need, as Moses presumably was dead, and the nation could not bear existing with no physical figurehead. Thus, the Jews said, “...Moses the man who took us up from Egypt, we know not what has happened to him.” Why did they mention Moses “the man”? It was due to their over attachment to man, instead of God. Sforno explains that the Jews then created the Golden Calf to replace Moses. They did not truly assume the Calf was God, but that this Calf would be the means through which they could relate to God. Nonetheless, this was a grave sin. However, this sin displayed the level of the Jews, that they required a tangible method of approaching God. Temple was God’s response: it would act as a controlled outlet of sorts. God would allow their tangible approach to Him, never once allowing the Jew to view God as tangible, but merely offering them a means, on their level, to worship God. If we understand God’s message to the Jews here, we can now answer our main question regarding the role of the Menora.

With Temple, God teaches mankind that our own means of approaching Him – the Golden Calf – must fail in truly relating to God. Human ideas by definition are qualitatively and quantitatively less than God’s perfect knowledge. But not only are our ideas flawed, the central point I wish to make is this: man cannot initiate a relationship with God, unless God makes this relationship a reality, and does so first. For the Jews to presume that creating a golden animal will realistically relate them to God, is a crime, which earned them death. Our understanding of the true means by which we relate to God is so essential, that without it, our lives are worthless. We may now understand why Menora is so essential to Temple.

Temple, as we said, is God’s allowance for mankind to relate to Him in an Earthly and tangible fashion. But since the Jews sinned, assuming they might initiate a relationship with God on their own, and with their own fabricated devices and acts, God corrects us. And not only did those Jews possess the emotion responsible for the Golden Calf’s creation, we are all still the same “human” design, sharing the seeds of that sin, and in need of keeping a “lid” on those idolatrous emotions. The Talmud teaches that the Yetzer Hara – the evil instinct – emerged from the Temple’s “Holy of Holies” in the form of a fiery lion. This parable means that it is in the religious sphere (Temple) that man’s idolatrous emotions are most powerful. And therefore, in this religious sphere (Temple worship) we find the most exacting of laws to restrain this emotion. We find today all too often, many Jews wishing to express greater “religiosity” than others. Man’s ego teams with his religious emotion, and seeks grandeur in the eyes of hi fellow, instead of in God’s eyes. God, having created our religious emotions, warns us not to add to the Torah, for this very reason. Radak’s last “Yaish Omrim” in Zafania 1:8 explains how God punished Jews who dressed differently than the other Jews, just to present themselves as more religious. We have digressed, but for good reason. Let us return to the Menora.

Now, as Sforno taught, man sinned by assuming he knew how to relate to God: he thought his arbitrary actions of creating a Golden Calf might have some real meaning before God. However, this is pure idolatry and imagination. How does God correct us? We require this vital lesson that we cannot initiate a relationship with God, but it is God who does so, and it is God’s prescribed actions and laws, which are truly recognized by Him. We are taught of the Menora’s essential role in our aforementioned three cases.

When reestablishing Temple service during Channukah, God made certain that the very initiation – Menora lighting – was not by natural means, but through that miracle. When God gave Zechariah his vision, again, God informed him that the Temple would be rebuilt through God: “not by an army and not by strength, but by My spirit, says God of hosts.” (Zech. 4:6) Meaning, man’s relationship to God (Temple service) in these two cases, required a reminder that this relationship exists…only due to Gods’ will, and man cannot effectuate a relationship arbitrarily, without God’s will. We learn that man must subordinate his religious desires, to God’s exact prescriptions of service. The honest person will ask, “How can man relate to the Creator of the universe?” And a great, honest man did already express this: “What is man that you are mindful of him, or the son of man that you remember him? (King David, Psalms, 8:5) Humility demands this response of King David. However, God does create a relationship, for which we must be thankful. So our two cases teach that God intervened, not allowing man to assume he might relate to God, without God’s will or methods. Perhaps this also explains the Talmudic portion citing the “fiery Menora” that taught Moses of its perplexing design. The concept of a “perplexing design” suggests this idea again: that we must subordinate our knowledge, to God’s knowledge. Even the most perfect and intelligent man relied on God’s instruction.

But now you will ask, “Where was there any act of God in the inaugural service in Beha-alosecha?” To this, I ask you, “Why did God select the Menora, and not another item, to function as His lesson in Zechariah and during Channukah?”

Again: Temple (man’s service to God) demands that man recognize God’s methods, and that God initiates any relationship with man. I cannot explain the Menora’s knobs, cups and flowers, but I wish to suggest why it is designed wit six branches emanating from a seventh. I believe this refers to Creation, from which six days emanated, and rest was established for the seventh. The very concept of creation is the most primary example of God’s relationship with everything: His creation of matter’s very existence is the most primary expression of His relationship with matter, with the entire universe. Perhaps for this reason, God uses the Menora to demonstrate this lesson, that He creates this “relationship” with man, just as he forged the basis of all relationships, by granting everything existence. The act of creation is the expression of God’s relationship to matter, per excellence. He therefore structured the Menora to embody an expression of “Creation” so that Temple will have an item displaying the foundation of our relationship with the Creator: an object which resembles creation, an emanating six days, paralleled by an emanating six branches. Perhaps for this reason we recite, “and the good oil pour out on the seven branches of the Menora, to spread forth Your goodness to Your creations” as we wind the Tefillin “seven times” on our arms. Again here, when in service to God wearing His Tefillin, we remind ourselves that without His Mitzvos or His desire, we have no means to relate to Him.

Menora resembles creation, and by contemplating creation, we realize the idea of God relating to creation. And as this Menora sits in the Temple, the place where we desire to approach God, we are made aware of this truth, that only through God’s methods, will we have any relationship with Him. We are thereby averted from subjective, idolatrous, religious expressions as displayed by the Jews who created the Golden Calf. Menora reminds us to rely on God’s means to approach Him, so that we truly approach Him, and not imagine we do. God creates the truth that we can relate to Him, and thus, He created miracles when the temple was reestablished and rebuilt. Temple service devoid of a clear teaching that God enables such service is false. God desires we live by truth, so God teaches us with lessons as these.

This is a primary lesson for us all. We must recognize by Torah study what is true and what s false concerning our notions of God. We must then adhere meticulously to His commands, as He alone knows the only means for our relationship with Him.

Studying God’s Torah is the greatest command, and where we find our true expression as intelligent beings. But although as we said, the Ark which houses the Torah is the true focus of the Temple and our lives, the Menora teaches a vital lesson as well, regarding our relationship with God. Temple addresses the entire human being, and part of our Earthly existence encompasses not only Torah study (Ark), but also our approach to God in a relationship. Menora is the vehicle that educates man on this relationship, restraining our religious expression to only what God deems proper, and teaching that our relationship follows His methods, not our own.

To partake of reality, man must subjugate his feelings, to God’s true knowledge. This, I feel, is a goal of the Menora.