Thursday, February 18, 2010

Parashat Terumah - The Menorah

The Menorah

Shemot 25:31 You shall make a Menorah of pure gold, hammered out shall the Menorah be made, its base, its shaft, its cups, its knobs, and its blossoms shall be [hammered] from it. 

The menorah (candelabrum, lampstand) had to be beaten out of a single piece of gold. It could not be made of separate pieces joined together.

Normally when candelabra are made, the base is made separately, the branches separately, and the lamps separately, and then they are all joined together. The menorah in the Mishkan could not be made in such a manner. Rather, it had to be beaten out of a single piece of gold. The workers began with a single ingot of gold. They then beat it out flat and separated it into branches. These were beaten into the proper shape. In this manner, the entire menorah was made of a single piece of gold.

32 Six branches shall emerge from its sides, three branches of the Menorah from its one side and three branches of the Menorah from its second side;  33 three cups engraved like almonds on the one branch, a knob and a flower; and three cups engraved like almonds on the next branch, a knob and a flower - so for the six branches that emerge from the Menorah.  34 And on the Menorah shall be four cups, engraved like almonds, its knobs and its flowers.  35 A knob shall be under two of the branches from it, a knob under two of the branches from it, and knob under two of the branches from it - for the six branches emerging from the Menorah. 36 Their knobs and branches shall be of it; all of it a single hammered piece of pure gold.

The cups were decorations beaten out of the metal of the branches. They were decorated. Besides the cups, there were also spheres and flower blossoms beaten out of the branches.

The central shaft or stem of the menorah also had spheres and blossoms as well as four cups. Of these, one cup was at the bottom of the menorah below the branches while the other three were on top above the branches.

37 You shall make its lamps seven; he shall kindle its lamps so as to give light toward its face. 

The openings of the lamps were made facing the center lamp. When the other six were lit, they would shine primarily toward the stem which was called "the menorah's face."

38 Its tongs and its spoons shall be of pure gold. 

The wick tongs were tweezers that were used to draw the wicks out of the oil so that they could be adjusted in the lamp. The ash snips were like scissors that were used to remove the ashes in the lamps each morning when the lamps would be cleansed of the ashes of the wicks that had burned all night and then had gone out.

39 Of a talent of pure gold shall he make it, with all these vessels. 

The menorah and all its utensils were made out of one talent (kikar) of pure gold, no more and no less. A talent is 32 libras, where each libra is 25 sela'im. A talent is about 150 pounds of gold.

40 See and make, according to their form that you are shown on the mountain.

We can now describe the entire menorah.

Regarding the menorah's shaft, the Torah says, "The menorah shall have four embossed cups along with its spheres and blossoms." (Shemot 25:34) This indicates that the central shaft of the menorah contained four cups. These cups had the form of Alexandrian cups, with wide mouths gradually tapering off. There were two such cups on the shaft.

The "spheres" had the form of apples that grow in the city of Kerot. They are ovoid in shape, round and long on both sides like an egg. There were two such spheres on the shaft.

The blossoms are like the blossoms that are made on marble columns. They were thus like forms cut with a stonecutter's hammer. Their edge was bent outward.

There were two such flowers on the menorah's stem. Besides these, there was also a third blossom near the menorah's base.

The base of the menorah had three feet.

There were also another three spheres on the menorah's shaft in the area where the branches extended from it.

The menorah had six branches, three to the right, and three to the left. These branches extended upward diagonally from the stem toward the top of the menorah. The lowest branch was the longest of them all, the next a bit shorter, and the highest the shortest of them all. Thus, the tops of all the branches were at exactly the same height. The lamps on all six branches were thus at the same level as the lamp on the menorah's stem.

The center shaft was known as "the menorah's face" (p'ney hamenorah).

Each branch also had three cups, one sphere and one blossom.

All of them were "almond-decorated." That is, they were decorated with the forms of almonds. The verse can thus be interpreted, "The menorah shall have four almond-decorated (me-shukadim) cups along with its spheres and flowers." There is a question as to whether "almond-decorated" relates only to the "cups" or whether it also relates to the "spheres and flowers." Therefore, all were almond-decorated. Even if it is not required on the spheres and flowers, it is of no harm if it is done. Conversely, however, if they all required such decoration and it was not done, the menorah would not be made properly.

It thus comes out that the menorah had a total of 22 cups. There were 18 on the six branches, three on each branch, and an additional four on the stem of the menorah.

The menorah also had 11 spheres, six on the six branches, three on the shaft where the branches extend, one near the bottom, and one in the upper three handbreadths of the shaft. The last sphere was together with the three upper cups.

The menorah also had 9 flowers. There were six, one on each of the six branches, and three on the shaft.

All these were absolutely necessary if the menorah was to be valid. If one of the above 42 cups, spheres or flowers were missing, the menorah was invalid. The same is true if any of the 7 branches or 7 lamps were missing.

The menorah was 18 handbreadths (54 inches) high. It was made in this manner:

From the base to the lower flower was 3 handbreadths.

There were then 2 handbreadths smooth, and then within one handbreadth, there was a cup, sphere and flower.

There were then two handbreadths smooth, and then a sphere taking up one handbreadth from which two of the branches extended.

There was then one handbreadth smooth and another sphere taking up a handbreadth, from which the next two branches extended. There was then another two handbreadths smooth, and then a third sphere taking up one handbreadth, from which the third set of branches extended.

Above this there was another two handbreadths smooth.

Thus what we have already counted is a total of 15 handbreadths.

There was then an additional three handbreadths remaining until the top of the menorah. In these three handbreadths there were three cups, one sphere and one flower.

The Torah therefore says, "And this (ve-zeh) is the structure of the menorah." (BaMidbar 8:4) The numerical value of ve-zeh is 18, denoting the height of the menorah.

There was a large stone in front of the menorah. This stone had three steps, and the priest would stand on it in order to light the menorah and clean out the lamps. On this stone also stood the wick tongs and ash snips which were used for the menorah.

This stone was made of the finest, most beautiful marble which was more precious than gold. It was 8 1/2 handbreadths (25 1/2 inches) high and 9 handbreadths (27 inches) wide.

The menorah stood to the south of the Mishkan while the showbread table stood to the north. They were both in the inner sanctuary directly outside the Holy of Holies. When a person would enter the sanctuary, the menorah would be to his right and the table to his left.

Although the Torah specifies that the menorah must be made of pure gold, this was merely a preference and not an absolute requirement. Therefore, if the community was poor and had to replace the menorah, they could make it out of any type of metal, whether silver, copper or the like. However, it could not be made of wood, bone, ivory, or glass, and if it is made of anything other than metal, it is invalid.

All the embellishments, such as the cups, spheres and blossoms, that the Torah requires for a menorah, are required only when it is made of gold. However, if it is made of silver or any other metal, it is made without the cups, spheres and blossoms.

Similarly, the Torah requires that the menorah be made of a talent (kikar) of metal only when it is made of gold. Moreover, the requirement that it be hammered out of a single piece of metal only applies when it is made of gold. If the menorah is made of other metals, neither of these conditions must be met. Nevertheless, even if it is made of other metals, the menorah cannot be made of small parts.

The Torah literally says, "Make it out of a talent of pure gold, and all these utensils." (Shemot 25:39) In the Talmud there is a dispute regarding the meaning of this verse.

Rabbi Yehudah maintained that the menorah and its lamps were made of a talent of gold. This was the mass of gold out of which the menorah was to be made. The tongs and snips, however, were made separately, and were therefore not included in the talent. The "utensils" mentioned in the verse do not include the tongs and snips, but do include the lamps. These also had to be made of the original mass of gold and are referred to as "utensils" (kelim) only because they are usually separate from a candelabrum.

Rabbi Nechemiah, on the other hand, maintained that the talent only included the menorah itself and not the lamps, tongs or snips. He maintained that the lamps were attached and not an integral part of the menorah. When the Torah says, "and all these utensils," it does not mean that they are included in the talent of metal, but only that they also had to be made of pure gold.

The accepted opinion is that the menorah and its lamps were made out of a single piece of gold weighing one talent. The snips and tongs, however, were not included in the talent.

Each of the lamps had a gold cover that could be opened and closed. These covers protected the oil so that it was not left uncovered. They also prevented dust and ashes from the wicks from falling into the oil. According to one opinion, these were the milkachaim on the menorah. [This opinion disputes the opinion cited earlier that the milkachaim were tongs.]

According to this opinion, the machtot on the menorah [were not snips or scoops. Rather, they] were protrusions under the lamps to catch any ashes or sparks from the wicks. All these were made of the same mass of gold as the rest of the menorah.

The seven branches of the menorah were solid, not hollow.

The Torah moreover specifies that the spheres and branches should be made of "pure gold." (Shemot 25:36) One should not think that the insides of the spheres and branches which cannot be seen may be made of alloyed gold. The Torah therefore specifies that even the unseen internal portions of the menorah must be made of pure gold.

Although the description of the menorah appears fairly straightforward, it was not a simple thing to communicate. All the people found it very difficult to conceptualize the menorah.

Moshe also found it very difficult to picture the menorah. G-d therefore showed him a fiery menorah in the heaven. Regarding this, G-d said, "This is the form of the menorah." (BaMidbar 8:4) The word "this" indicates that G-d was actually pointing to something that He was showing Moshe.

G-d here told Moshe, "Carefully observe the Pattern that you will be shown on the mountain." (Shemot 25:40) G-d was speaking of the form of the menorah that he would show Moshe.

The Torah literally says, "make [the menorah) with the form (be-tavnit) that you will be shown." It does not say, "like the form" (ke-tavnit). This was because it was impossible for Moshe to make the menorah exactly like the one he saw in heaven. The heavenly menorah was a spiritual object made of red, white and green fire. The difference between something spiritual and something physical is very great indeed.

Moreover, the word be-tavnit is not the object of the word "make" but of the word "see." The verse is actually saying, "Look at the form that you will be shown on the mountain, and make [the menorah]." G-d was telling Moshe to look carefully at the pattern of the spiritual menorah so as to have the wisdom to make the menorah out of gold.

The Torah thus says, "This is the form of the menorah: miksha of gold." (BaMidbar 8:4) [Although miksha is usually translated as "a single piece of beaten work,"] it can also be translated as "difficult." This indicates that Moshe found it too difficult to make the menorah. G-d therefore told Moshe, "Take a talent of gold and throw it into the fire. When you take it out, the menorah will be made, with all its cups, spheres and flowers."

The Torah therefore says, "it shall be made of a single piece of metal" (Shemot 25:31), using the passive rather than the active voice. This alludes to the fact that the menorah was made by itself.

According to Rabbi Yose son of Rabbi Yehudah, G-d showed Moshe three things: the Aron (Ark), the Shulchan (Table), and the Menorah (Lampstand). G-d showed Moshe a form of each of these objects made of fire that descended from heaven. Moshe saw them and was then able to make them.

One should not think that this contradicts what we have said above. Rather, what happened was this:

At first when G-d told Moshe to make the menorah, it was very difficult for him to understand. He could not comprehend it, and he asked, "How can something like this be made?" G-d then showed him a fiery menorah in the sky, and he understood.

However, when Moshe descended from Mount Sinai, he forgot how to make it. He said, "Master of the Universe, I forgot the form of the menorah."

G-d then showed it to him again. But now Moshe found it very difficult to understand. G-d took a mass of fire and showed Moshe how it could be made into a menorah, but Moshe still could not understand.

Finally, G-d said to him, "Go to Betzalel, and he will make it." G-d was actually telling Moshe to take a talent of gold, bring it to Betzalel so that he could throw it into the fire, and allow the menorah to be made on its own. G-d , however, did not want to say this explicitly to Moshe, so He merely told him to go to Betzalel.

Moshe went to Betzalel and gave him the gold, and Betzalel was able to make the menorah immediately. When Moshe saw this, he said to Betzalel, "G-d showed me the menorah twice, but I still could not fathom how to make it. You, however, made it without ever seeing it. Maybe you were there when G-d showed me the menorah." 

The form of the menorah symbolized the Torah. The seven branches parallel the seven words in the first verse in Bereishit. The 11 spheres on the menorah parallel the 11 words in the first verse of Shemot. The 9 blossoms parallel the 9 words in the first verse in VaYikra. The height of the menorah was 18 handbreadths, as we said. One handbreadth, however, was not complete, so the actual height of the menorah was 17 handbreadths and a bit extra. These paralleled the 17 words in the first verse in BaMidbar. The 22 cups on the menorah parallel the 22 words in the first verse of Devarim.

It therefore comes out that the first verses of all five books of the Torah are alluded to in the menorah. The total number is forty-nine.

We are forbidden to duplicate any of the Mishkan's furniture. Therefore, we are forbidden to make a seven-branched candelabrum even if it is not made of gold. It is forbidden even if the candelabrum does not have the cups, knobs and blossoms that the one menorah had and even if it is not 18 handbreadths tall. Although it is not exactly like the menorah, it is still forbidden since as we explained earlier, these decorations are merely preferable but not absolutely required.

The main thing that the Torah requires of the menorah is that it have seven branches. Therefore, there is no prohibition against making a candelabrum having five, six or eight branches.

It is forbidden to make a seven-branched candelabrum even if it is made in pieces made to be attached or screwed together. The dictum that the menorah be made of a single piece of gold was only a preference. However if it was made of attached pieces, the menorah was still valid as long as it was not made of gold.

There are large candelabra made with seven branches. It is important to realize that if the branches extend from a central shaft, this is absolutely forbidden. However if it does not have branches, then it is permitted even if it has seven lamps.


- MeAm Lo'ez Commentaries [Torah Anthology]