Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Menorah: Symbol of Unity

by Rabbi Mordechai Willig


“When you kindle the lamps towards the face (the center, Rashi) of the menorah the seven lamps will shine” (Bamidbar 8:2). The conventional interpretation groups the middle phrase – “toward the face of the menorah” – together with the end of the passuk, placing a comma after the introductory phrase - “when you kindle the lamps.” The Seforno, however, disagrees. He combines these aforementioned first and second phrases and inserts two explanatory words, as follows: “When you kindle the (six) lamps toward the center of the menorah, (then) the seven lamps will shine.” The right candles represent those who deal with eternal life. i.e. learning Torah. The left candles represent those who deal with temporal life, i.e. earning a livelihood, who help those who learn Torah. Both must intend to fulfill Hashem’s desire and exalt His name together, just as they accepted, “The entire people responded together and said ‘Everything that Hashem said we shall do’” (Shemos 19:8), i.e. between all of us we will complete His intention.

The Seforno quotes the Gemara (Chulin 92a) that compares Am Yisrael to a grapevine. The branches are earners (ba’alei batim) who support the poor and the government so that their brothers can survive (Rashi). The clusters (grapes) are the Torah scholars, and the leaves are the masses (amei ha’aretz) who produce the food that Torah scholars eat (Rashi). Let the clusters pray for the leaves, for if not for the leaves the clusters would not survive. Even though the masses work for their own benefit, the Torah scholars should be grateful and pray for them (Be’er Yitzchak).

The status of earners who work in order to support Torah is much higher than that of the masses. “Rejoice, Zevulun, when you go out (for trade, Rashi) and Yissachar in your tents” (Devarim 33:18). Zevulun earned and supported Yissachar, who learned Torah. Zevulun precedes Yissachar since Yissachar’s Torah was made possible by Zevulun. The Seforno’s reference to the masses includes them in the unified Am Yisroel as well. The Seforno adds that the reason the menorah must be made from a single block of gold (8:4, see Rashi) is to teach that unity is the purpose of lighting the menorah.


Aharon felt badly that neither he nor his shevet (Levi) were with the nesi’im who brought korbanos to dedicate the mizbeach. Hashem said to him “Yours is greater than theirs, because you kindle the lamps” Why is Aharon’s role greater?

The Eim Habanim S’meicha (p. 497) explains that preservation is more important than construction. Preserving the Mishkan and the Beis Hamikdash depends on peaceful coexistence between all segments of Am Yisroel. Aharon, who loved and pursued peace (Avos 1:12), lit the lamps of the menorah, which, as Seforno explains, represents unity. Unity is especially critical when we face mortal danger (the sefer was written in Budapest in 1943). Torah Jews must maintain their religious observance but can unite with all Jews in Yishuv Eretz Yisrael (ibid p. 500).

The Rav zt”l expresses a similar idea (The Day - Jewish Journal November 12, 1954 pg. 6). Torah Jews may and must cooperate with all Jews to defend the Jewish people and land against outside forces (k’lapei chutz). But there may not be joint religious activities with groups that deny the fundamentals of Torah belief and practice (k’lapei p’nim).

Striking the proper balance between unity and separation involving various groups and sub-groups is difficult, and, itself, the subject of dispute. We must, like Aharon, love and pursue peace, love all creatures and bring them close to Torah (Avos 1:12) while simultaneously safeguarding our Torah heritage and transmitting it to our children. May we succeed in both endeavors and thereby hasten the day when the menorah will be lit in the rebuilt Beis Hamikdash.

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