by Rabbi Dov Berl Wein
The flames that emanated from the lamps that were to be lit as part of the menorah lighting ritual in the Mishkan and later in the Temple in Jerusalem were to be facing towards the center stem of the great menorah itself. There is a difference of opinion amongst the rabbis as to whether the lamps themselves could be removed from the menorah or whether they were permanently affixed therein. Be that as it may all opinions seemingly agree that the lamps had to be lit in such a ways that their wicks and hence the resultant flames faced inward towards the main stem of the menorah. The symbolism implicit in this detail of the ritual of lighting the lamps of the menorah is that all efforts of all different types of Jews are to be directed ultimately to one common cause and goal - the lighting of the menorah, which symbolizes the light of Torah and Godly wisdom. Many different people and groups may view this goal from different angles and traditions depending upon the place of their lamp in the menorah’s superstructure but all are required to look inward and to work together for this basic Jewish value of spreading the light of Torah in the world. This was also the idea implicit in the idea that the kruvim - the forms of the two angels on the cover of the Holy Ark - faced each other. They covered the Ark of the Law and were united face to face in protecting and disseminating Torah to Israel. The Talmud teaches us that when they did not face each other, when they operated so to speak at cross purposes, it was a disastrous sign for the Jewish people. There may be varying and differing ways to promote Torah and its value system but all these ways must converge face to face in a sense of unity of purpose. Looking away one from another only diminishes our chance of success in achieving this holy goal.
The honor and duty of lighting the menorah was reserved for the High Priest of Israel, the descendant of Aaron. Aaron himself was distinguished by the sense of harmony and unity he brought to Jewish life and society. He was able to take all of the different talents and traditions of twelve vastly different tribes of Israel and focus them together towards a common goal of national unity and Torah holiness. Therefore his direct descendants were charged with accomplishing this very same goal and this was symbolized for them in the daily lighting ritual of the menorah. The concept of Jewish leadership was to foster a unity of purpose and a common national vision. It was never meant to divide and fracture Jewish society into squabbling groups. There are those in the Jewish world whose face is only turned towards the past, away from the realities and the issues that so desperately confront us. There are those in the Jewish world who only face the present and have no connection any longer with the Jewish past thus depriving themselves of necessary perspective and historical experience. Only when all groups in the Jewish world face each other and combine their strengths in a positive fashion will light the lamps of the menorah again be lit in brightness and warmth.