The Menorat HaKnesset
The bronze, four and a half meter high Menorat HaKnesset stands in the Menorah Plaza by the main entrance to Gan HaVradim. This impressive menorah, in the shape of that which appears in the Arch of Titus, was created by Jewish sculptor Benno Elkan of England. It was given in 1956 by the English parliament as a gift to the State of Israel.
Like a “visual textbook,” it has engravings of some thirty important events, idioms, characters and terms from Jewish history. Each of the seven branches portrays a number of specific scenes, carved in relief.
The menorah interweaves themes of galus and geulah, showing the tidal waves of the rise and fall of the Jewish People throughout history. The first depiction on the right hand branch illustrates Yirmiyahu bewailing the Churban, while the last left hand branch’s upper engraving shows the Final Redemption as pictured in Yeshayahu where a lion and a lamb will live in harmony (Yeshayahu 2:4, 11:6).
The 70 years of the Babylonian Exile (lowest representation on last left hand branch) is illustrated by showing the exiles lamenting the destruction of Yerushalayim and Bayis Rishon by the rivers of Bavel. This scene is counterbalanced by a depiction of the Shivas Tzion of Ezra seen on the following branch at the top, together with an image of Nechemiah, (lowest bottom carving on outer right hand branch) who served King Artaxerxes of Persia in a high-ranking position. He fortified those who had come back to Tzion from Bavel with Zerubavel and Yehoshua Kohen Gadol. In the face of much opposition, he was instrumental in organizing the rebuilding of the walls of Yerushalayim and helping many of Klal Yisrael resettle. In addition, during his time, Torah observance was greatly strenghtened.
The engraving on the outer left hand branch shows Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai asking the Roman authorities to establish a center in Yavneh for the study of Torah. He realized that Yerushalayim and the Beit HaMikdash were facing destruction and knew that in order to preserve the Eternal People, their eternal law needed to be preserved first. His request for Yavneh was a way of ensuring our continued survival as a nation.
The central point of the menorah, to which the eye is instinctively drawn, is a circle exactly in its middle which says “Shema Yisrael.” The central branch‘s first engraving shows Chur and Yehoshua holding up Moshe hands in the war against Amalek. When Bnei Yisrael looked up at Moshe’s upheld hands, they turned their heart towards HaKodesh Baruch Hu, and were able to overcome the enemy. It’s a reminder that wars are not won by military superiority but rather by the might of Hakadosh Baruch Hu as He fights for His children. The words from Zecharyah (4), which are carved on the bases of the two outer arms strengthen this concept “Not because of the (number of) soldiers or the (military) strength, but with My Ruach, said HaShem Zvakot.”
The scene symbolizing David’s triumph over Goliath echoes the above ideas (3rd branch from the left top) – as does the Chashmonaim victory of the few over the many, portrayed in the 2nd scene of the outer right hand branch. When we consider the numerous wars fought in Eretz Yisrael from 1948 and on, it is clear that it was only with Hashem’s kindness that we were able to prevail over our enemies. And it will only be with the help of the Almighty that we will survive our current problems.
There are many other scenes depicted, such as Shlomo’s understanding of the language of the birds and Avraham Avinu’s purchaing the Cave of the Machpelah, as well Rachel Imeinu bitterly weeping over her children in exile.
To reach the Menorat HaKnesset, travel on the Yitzchak Rabin Highway, turn in at the Supreme Court onto Rechov Rothschild, and keep on going until you see the Knesset Menorah to your right.
The Golden Menorah
As you walk up the steps that lead up to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, to your right is a golden reconstruction of the menorah of the Beit HaMikdash created by the Temple Institute. Surrounding the menorah are stone benches allowing visitors to sit and enjoy a panoramic view of the Temple Mount with the golden glass-caged menorah in the foreground. The part of the Western Wall exposed by the southern excavation at the Davidson Centre is also clearly visible. But the Mugrabie Bridge and a large tree hide the section we call the Kotel.
Vardah Littman and Rimonah Traub