This week's parsha
Lessons from the Menorah
"There are seventy facets of the Torah." This famous Talmudic saying gives us a measure of the depth of Torah teachings. It is taken to mean that for every sentence in the Torah one can find seventy different explanations, lessons or meanings.
But why stop at a sentence? Maybe this is true of every single word of the Torah -- or even every letter? In fact this is so, and it combines with another idea that every Torah concept has four levels of meaning, from basic to esoteric. The Talmud also tells us that Rabbi Akiva, the leading teacher of Torah in his generation, could explain not only every letter of the Torah but even the little "crowns" that adorn the letters in the handwritten Torah scroll.
This aspect of the Torah means that it is a constant source of teaching, in every epoch, and applying to every aspect of life, both practical and spiritual. Take for example the Golden Menorah, the lighting of which is described in this week's Torah reading. We might think this law only relates to the time of the Temple. However, the Torah is speaking to our generation as well. The following points are among the "seventy facets of Torah":
- The Menorah had to be made from one block of gold; no welding, no bolts and no dovetail joints. However, the Menorah had seven lamps, not just one. The Sages tell us that this aspect of the Menorah signifies the diversity of Jewish people -- seven branches, from the far left to the far right. The fact that the Menorah was made of one block of gold emphasizes the fact that despite the diversity, in essence we are all one.
- A second point concerns the flame of the Menorah. A burning flame consists of three things: the fuel (olive oil), the wick and the flame itself. The wick represents the physical body. The flame, striving ever upward, represents the spiritual radiance achieved by the person in their daily life. But in the case of the lamp, the wick needs fuel to replenish the flame. Likewise in the life of a Jew: the fuel for the flame is the observance of the Torah and its laws. Without the fuel of Torah observance the Jewish spirit cannot achieve its task of bringing spiritual illumination to the world.
- A third point concerns the lighting of the lamps. This job was carried out by a priest (kohen) every day in the Temple. The commenter Rashi tells us that his task was not complete until the flame burned properly, of its own accord. It was not enough just to touch the wick and let a nascent flickering flame struggle for survival. The lesson here concerns our relations with others. Each of us has, at times, the role of a "priest", giving light to someone else. When helping a person find his or her feet in both material and spiritual matters, it is not enough merely to be of momentary aid. Help should continue until the person can stand on their own feet. For this reason the highest mode of giving charity to the poor is to set the needy person up in business, while in spiritual matters the goal is to ignite the flame of the person's "lamp" so that he or she can then ignite and inspire others.
These are some of the seventy facets of the Torah, as regards the Menorah in the Torah portion. Can anyone at the table suggest some more?