In Parshat Beha’alotcha, God continues the meticulous details of the final element of the portable sanctuary: the menorah. It was to be crafted from a solid piece of gold hammered into the shape that God prescribed, but it was not the type of menorah that we think of today.
In today’s world, when one utters the word “menorah,” most people think of the Chanukah menorah. The number of branches on the Chanukah menorah number eight plus one for the shammash; there are seven in total on the menorah in the portable sanctuary, or mishkan. But that is not the most distinguishing characteristic of the mishkan’s menorah: It was oil-burning, unlike most chanukiyot that hold candles. The lamps were affixed to the tops of each of the branches and regularly refilled with oil to keep burning.
Of all the texts throughout the Torah that detail the construction of the mishkan and its appurtenances, the menorah is mentioned most frequently. We find instructions for its construction (Exodus 25:31-40), its lighting (Exodus 27:20-21; 30:7-8; 40:4 and Leviticus 24:1-3), its formal construction (Exodus 37:17-24), and in this week’s portion, we find instructions on how to mount the lamps and the details to do so.
Why might the menorah receive far more attention than any other appurtenance of the mishkan? What is so significant about the menorah that it deserves such frequent attention?
The menorah is to be created from a solid piece of gold that is hammered into its final shape. Imagine the efforts of a singular goldsmith to create such an incredible object. Perhaps the Torah might be teaching us that if we recognize the effort necessary to create a beautiful menorah to grace the mishkan and provide light, there is an equal, if not greater, effort necessary of each of us to hammer away at our essence, to create something beautiful that graces the world and provides light through the performance of mitzvot and our individual efforts to be the best possible selves we can be.
God endowed Bezalel and Oholiab with the wisdom and knowledge to work all means of materials in the construction of the mishkan and its appurtenances. Each of us has been gifted with a Divine spark and the teachings of the Torah, the tools that enable us to hammer away to create something remarkable. May God guide each of us to create something as magnificent as the menorah, and may we illuminate and beautify all that we touch. PJC
Rabbi Jeffrey Myers is the rabbi/hazzan of Tree of Life Congregation. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.