For the week ending 16 March 2024 / 6 Adar Bet 5784

Taamei Hamitzvos - The Menorah (Part 2 of 2)

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Reasons Behind the Mitzvos: The Menorah (Part 2 of 2)

By Rabbi Shmuel Kraines

“Study improves the quality of the act and completes it, and a mitzvah is more beautiful when it emerges from someone who understands its significance.” (Meiri, Bava Kama 17a)

Mitzvah #98 in Sefer HaChinuch


The Menorah symbolizes that Hashem provides illumination for His world in the spiritual sense as well, that is, through the Divine wisdom of the Torah. As opposed to the Aron, which symbolizes the actual Torah that was received by prophecy, the Menorah symbolizes the wisdom of the Torah as it is attained by the study of the Jewish people (Rav Hirsch). The central branch represents the Written Torah, and the six protruding branches represent the six orders of the Oral Torah (Arizal, cited in Be’er Basadeh). The 7 branches, 22 cups, 11 spheres, and 9 flowers add up to 49 components, corresponding to the 49 days in which the Torah was given. Accordingly, there is a custom to recite Tehillim §67, which has 49 words, written out in the shape of a Menorah, during the 49 days of the Omer that lead up to Giving of the Torah. The Menorah weighed 120 manah, corresponding to the three times forty days that Moshe spent on Mount Sinai in order to receive the Torah (Maaseh Rokeach). The Menorah is positioned in the south of the Mishkan, which is called its “right side,” since the heart of the wise man is on his right (Koheles 10:2; Midrash Tadsheh §11).

The Midrash expounds that the verse, The beginning of Your words shall illuminate (Tehillim 119:130), alludes to the Menorah. Arizal,Rama (Toras HaOlah §16), and the Vilna Gaon explain this to mean that the opening verses of the Torah’s five Books allude to the various components of the Menorah. The opening verse of Bereishis has seven words, alluding to the number of branches; the opening verse of Shemos has eleven words, alluding to the number of spheres; the opening verse of Vayikra has nine words, alluding to the number of flowers; the opening verse of Bamidbar has seventeen words, alluding to its height. [Although its height is eighteen handbreadths, the Commentators explain that the eighteenth is alluded to by the kollel, or the eighteenth handbreadth is a part of a handbreadth and is not counted, or it corresponds to the base of the Menorah, or it is alluded to by the beis of Bereishis, or a combination of the above.] The opening verse of Devarim has twenty-two words, alluding to the number of cups.

We may suggest that these five components correspond precisely to the contents of those Books, as follows: Bereishis is the Book of Creation, which is described in a verse as, He formed seven pillars for it (Mishlei 9:1), meaning, Hashem created the world in seven days (Rashi); so too, the Menorah has seven lamps that correspond to the seven days of Creation (Tanchuma), set on seven pillars.Shemos begins with tribes descending to Egypt, and they are represented by eleven stars; hence, eleven spheres. Vayikra speaks about the mitzvos that pertain to a tribe that is not counted amongst the rest: Levi. Levi is comprised of eight families (Livni, Shimi, Amram, Yitzhar, Chevron, Uziel, Machli, and Mushi), plus Aharon’s Kohanite family, and so too, there are eight flowers along the branches of the Menorah, plus a ninth by its base. The flowers are associated with the Tribe of Levi, as we find that Aharon’ staff sprouted blossoms (VaOlech Eschem Komemiyus). Bamidbar describes the Jewish people travelling through the Wilderness in a camp of eighteen elements: the Mishkan in the center; surrounded by four family groups (Gershon to west, Kehas to south, Merari to the north, and the families of Moshe and Aharon to the east); surrounded by four groups of three tribes; and the encampment as a whole (the kollel). This finds expression in the Menorah’s height of eighteen handbreadths, which alluded to in the seventeen words of the opening verse of Bamidbar, along with the kollel. In Devarim, Moshe teaches the Torah to the Jewish people, and the Torah is symbolized by its twenty-two letters; hence the number of cups.


A Torah scholar is compared to a tree, and so too, the Menorah has a trunk, branches, flowers, cups similar to the ovary of a flower, and spheres shaped like fruit (Rav Hirsch; see there). The height of the Menorah is that of an average man (Alshich). It measures eighteen handbreadths, the numerical value of the word chai (life), because the Torah is the Tree of Life (Toras HaOlah). The cups, which contain spheres, from which blossom forth flowers, allude to the three stages of a Torah scholar’s development. First, he must focus solely on receiving Torah from his teachers, like a cup; then he must focus on retaining his studies, like sealed-off sphere; and then he becomes capable of blossoming and producing novel Torah thoughts in accordance with Torah’s truth (Dvar Mikra, by Rabbi Immanuel Bernstein). The seven lamps correspond to the seven gateways to the soul): two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, and the mouth (Midrash Tadsheh §11). Every Jew is capable of radiating with Divine glory by acquiring Hashem’s wisdom that is contained in the Torah, our national heritage.

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