In Parashat BeHa’alotecha’s beginning, Hashem commands Moshe (BeMidbar 8:2), “Dabeir El Aharon VeAmarta Eilav BeHa’alotecha Et HaNeierot El Mul Penei HaMenorah Ya’iru Shivat HaNeirot,” “Speak to Aharon, and say to him, ‘When you light the candles, the seven candles shall give off light opposite the middle of the Menorah.’” The classic interpretation of this Pasuk, as explained by a Midrash (Sifrei 59) quoted by Rashi (8:2 s.v. Ya’iru Shivat HaNeirot), is that the peripheral wicks gave off light toward the middle candle (understood to be “Penei HaMenorah”) by bowing to their right or left.
This interpretation, however, begs three questions. First, according to this description, only six Menorah wicks bow, in contradistinction with the actual Pasuk’s explicit connection of “El Mul Penei HaMenorah” with “Shivat HaNeirot,” ostensibly implying that all seven, not six, candles leaned. Second, Rashi, quoting a Midrash (Tanchuma 5) explains that the wicks bow so that people will understand that the Menorah’s purpose is not mere interior lighting, since the candles are not situated as in a garden-variety candelabrum. Psychologist Gustav Fechner determined light’s absolute threshold, the smallest detectable level of a stimulus, that a candle flame can be seen from 30 miles on a perfectly dark and clear night. Considering light’s power of illumination, what difference would the slanting make, as the candle will still illuminate the Mishkan in all directions, like a pedestrian candleholder, despite the leaning? Finally, and most cogently, the word “Mul” here seems to be extraneous, as its meaning, “opposite,” adds nothing to the aforementioned interpretation. It is troubling to passively swallow the Torah adding an unnecessary word.
Rav Avraham Twerski offers an alternative interpretation of this Pasuk. He explains that since the Menorah faces a wall, the wicks all face the middle wick’s reflection on the wall. Thus, even the middle wick faces its reflection. Also, since the wicks face a wall, the light goes away from the center of the Heichal, showing that the Menorah is not a standard light fixture. Furthermore, “Mul” fits in perfectly, as every wick faces the opposite of the middle wick, which is situated on a wall. In response to a query of how such a simple, yet profound, insight could have been overlooked, Rav Twerski quoted a Gemara (Chullin 7a) that states that there will forever remain a Chiddush in the Torah so that someone down the line of Jewish continuity could claim his own insight to the Torah’s infiniteness.
Unfortunately, as Rav Yoel Bin Nun once pointed out, there are people nowadays who are so protective of Rashi and Chazal’s honor that they are unwilling to read a chapter of the Torah in a simple, fluent, straightforward manner lest they find themselves encountering questions and difficulties. Furthermore, they seem to fear that ignoring Rashi and Chazal and their interpretations or Midrashim may (Heaven forefend) lead to floccinaucinihilipilification of their moral teachings and Halachic instruction, as well. And this, in turn, may lead to skepticism and perhaps, God forbid, even heresy. For this reason, they issue a sweeping, all-inclusive directive (which no intelligent, thinking person can abide by): that none of us should imagine himself capable of a fluent, straightforward reading of the text, and therefore none of us is worthy of raising serious questions. In this manner, we lose out on the treasures of the biblical text, which fill a person with supreme joy and with the love of God. We lose out on the joy of the simple, plain reading (no less inspiring than the “secret” readings based on codes and the counting of intervals between letters), as well as on an understanding of the Midrash, since we receive it through “faith in the Sages,” an acceptance brimming with anxiety and denial of the intellect.