The Menorah: The Original “Olympic Flame” by Ned Krasnopolsky

(2018/5778)

First introduced in the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, the Olympic flame has been kindled and extinguished a countless number of times. However, since the creation of the Mishkan, a much older flame has been present, the Menorah. It’s structure and interconnected procedures, first introduced in Parashat Terumah, are mentioned four times throughout the Torah: in Parashiyot Terumah, Tetzaveh, Emor, and Beha’alotecha. Every account differs from the next, and each is absolutely integral to a full understanding of the Menorah’s purpose.

“E Pluribus Unum” - Out of Many, One

Parashat Terumah mainly provides a structural description of the Menorah. The first Pasuk of the Parashah states, “VeAsitah Menorat Zahav Tahor, Miksheh Ta’aseh HaMenorah”, “and you shall make a Menorah of pure gold, hammered shall you make the Menorah” (Shemot 25:31). Rashi (Ibid. s.v. Miksheh), citing the Bereita Milechet HaMishkan, explains that Miksheh (lit. hammered) means that the Menorah must be constructed from a solid piece of gold. It cannot be composed of many different pieces soldered together. (Rashi reaffirms his position in Parashat Beha’alotecha.)

 The Ramban (BeMidbar 8:4 s.v. VeTa’am) theorizes that the “Miksheh” component of the Menorah was the most significant element of the entire structure. He notes that while the gold aspect of the Menorah was significant, the “Miksheh” component is clearly emphasized and elevated by the Torah’s repetition of the word. If the Menorah is not “Miksheh”, it is simply not a Menorah. The reason for this is quite insightful: although Bnei Yisrael come from many branches, the Torah we all share comes from a single piece of solid gold.

The Ner Tamid - A Lesson in Consistency or Constancy?

The idea of the continuous Mesorah is highlighted by the descriptions of the Menorah provided within Parashiyot Tetzaveh and Emor. Fascinatingly, the Torah does not even use the language of “Menorah” throughout Parashat Tetzaveh. Instead, the Torah chooses to use the term “Ner Tamid”, as demonstrated in the first Pasuk of the Parashah: “VeAtah Tetzaveh Et B’nei Yisrael, VaYikchu Ailecha Shemen Zayit Zach Katit LaMaor LeHa’alot Ner Tamid“And you shall command the children of Israel, and they shall take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the Ner Tamid” (Shemot 27:20).

There is a debate as to what “Tamid” really means. Rashi (Ibid. s.v. Tamid) understands that “Tamid” means that the Menorah was lit in a consistent manner. The Menorah would be lit consistently from morning until the onset of the night; it was not lit 24 hours a day. The Rambam (Hilchot Temidim U’Mussafim 3:10) disagrees; he claims that all seven lamps must be lit every minute of the day. He draws a parallel between Korbanot and the Menorah: both have a set performance time, a Z’man Kavuah. Interestingly, the Ramban (Shemot 27:20 s.v Tzav Et Bnei Yisrael) understands that only of six of the lamps were lit consistently from day to night, while one remained lit 24 hours a day. He draws support from the language of “Ner Tamid” -- it’s singular. He cites both the Pesukim in Parashiyot Tetzaveh and Emor to prove his point. The Ramban’s approach is certainly a hybridization of the Rashi and Rambam approaches.

The Rambam’s approach is without doubt, the most demanding. While Rashi is more realistic, the Ramban’s approach is the most favorable. Ironically, if one is to interpret the Ner Tamid as a representation of the Torah, then the Ramban’s approach fits very well with the Rambam’s thesis on the Mitzvah of Talmud Torah. Throughout the entire first Perek of his Hilchot Talmud Torah, the Rambam emphasizes the requirement to learn Torah in a consistent manner. However, the Rambam also realized that people had to make a living, so he provided them with a proportionate schedule -- dividing their day to accommodate for both their Talmud Torah and careers. Granted, the Rambam certainly places a greater emphasis on Talmud Torah; however, he clearly stresses that there is a necessary balance. Essentially, a person should “light” one candle constantly, thus maintaining his Torah learning.

A Lesson in Interior Design - The Aron and the Shulchan

There is a debate involving the directional alignment of the Menorah in relation to the other structures found within the Mishkan. While the original Machloket appears in the Gemara Menachot on 78b, the Rishonim provide a good overview of the discussion. The Rashbam (BeMidbar 8:2 s.v. El Mul) and the Raavad (Rambam Hilchot Bayit HaBechirah 3:12) both align the Menorah along the east/west axis. This arrangement places the Menorah parallel to the Shulchan. The Rambam (Hilchot Bayit HaBechirah 3:12) aligns the Menorah along the north/south axis. This arrangement places the Menorah parallel to the Aron Kodesh. Essentially, the Rambam views the Menorah as an extension of the Aron. Thus, the Menorah acts as a medium for the set of values held within the Aron -- the values of the Torah.

Aharon’s Consolation - A Lesson for the Future

Rashi and the Ramban are both troubled by the Semichat HaParashiyot, the juxtaposition of texts, between the end of Parashat Nasso and the beginning of Parashat Beha’alotecha. The end of Parashat Nasso dealt with the gifts the Nesi’im brought to the Mishkan. The Menorah, at first glance, has absolutely nothing to do with the previous section. Rashi (BeMidbar 8:2 s.v. BeHa’alotecha) explains that when Aharon saw that he was not involved in the inauguration of the Mishkan, he experienced a Chalishat HaDa’at (he became distressed). At that point, Hashem told him that his portion was actually greater than theirs; he would get to light the Menorah. But why would that help? The remedy does not match the ailment! The Ramban (Ibid. s.v. BeHa’alotecha) explains that Aharon’s consolation laid in the fact that the Mitzvah of of Ner Chanukah would live past the Mishkan and Beit HaMikdash. It is a Mitzvah for eternity. This fits well with the Ramban’s approach to the relative layout of the Mishkan. The Menorah is tied to the Torah -- both are eternal. In every Beit Knesset, there is a Ner Tamid by the Aron. Even where there is no Menorah, the Torah is still represented.

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