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The Menorah

"And you shall make a menorah of pure gold; it shall be made of beaten work: Its base, stem, and cups, spheres and flowers must all be hammered out of a single piece of gold. And six branches shall extend from its sides, three branches of the menorah out of one side, and three branches out of the other side (i.e., of its central branch). There shall be three cups made like almonds, as well as a sphere and a flower, on each and every one of the branches. All six branches extending from the menorah's stem must be this way. And in the menorah shall be four cups made like almonds, with their bulbs and flowers. And there shall be a bulb under two branches of the same piece... their bulbs and their branches shall be made of the same piece... all shall be one beaten work of pure gold. And you shall make its seven lamps: and they shall light its lamps, that they may give light over against it... "

Details of Construction

With these words, the Holy One instructed Moses with the construction of the Temple Menorah, the golden seven-branched lamp. This is a highly detailed, involved and intricate undertaking; yet these passages provide only a general description of the plan for executing the project. The Talmud goes into considerable explanation of its details, and every aspect of the lamp's creation and appearance is discussed. Some of these details include, for example: the menorah's height, measured at 18 handbreadths, and considered to be the height of an average man. Some questions exist with regard to the base, which was either triangular or hemispherical, and may have featured three small legs (Menachot 3, 7; Maimonides Laws of the Temple 3:2).

The Talmud (BT Menachot 28:B) compares the cups which were fashioned on the branches to "Alexandrian goblets," which are wide with a narrow bottom, like wine glasses. As to the menorah's branches, some opinions hold that they were hollow (Ibn Ezra), but the majority maintain that they were solid. The greatest controversy regarding the menorah concerns its basic structure, i.e., the shape and direction of its branches. Some ancient diagrams, as well as historical evidence, depict the menorah as having rounded branches; other opinions maintain that the branches rise diagonally, straight out from the middle.

Because the Bible requires that the menorah be constructed from one segment of metal, it was made from one "talent," or kikar of gold - one piece of pure beaten gold, as opposed to several pieces being joined together. Within the Holy Temple, the menorah stood inside the Sanctuary on the southern side, and its seven lamps were to be lit in such a manner, that they would all shine towards the center. Each day a priest would tend to its the lamps' flames, fixing and preparing the wicks and kindling them anew.

A Spiritual Illumination

The menorah can be seen as occupying the most central role of all the sacred vessels, for it is the symbol of light - and the sages refer to Jerusalem as "the light of the world" (B'reishith Rabbah 59). One reason for this is the light of the Menorah, bursting forth from within the sanctuary. For the menorah's light was a spiritual, as well as physical, illumination. Thus the sages teach that the windows in the walls of the sanctuary were constructed differently than any other windows in the world. These were just the opposite of ordinary windows, for what is the normally considered the function of windows? To let the light in. But these windows were in order to let the light the out - to disseminate the spiritual light emanating from the Temple menorah out into the world. The Sanctuary's windows allowed the special ethereal light coming forth from the menorah to burst out to the world from within the hallowed hall.



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