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Our Chanukah menorah (chanukiah) has eight lamps to commemorate the eight-day miracle. The menorah in the Beit HaMikdash, however, had only seven lamps. What is the significance of the seven-branched menorah (which also happens to be the official symbol of the state of Israel)?

The Torah commands Aharon the high priest, “When you light the lamps, toward the center of the menorah shall the seven lamps cast light” (Bamidbar 8:2).


Why must the six other lights bend toward the center light? According to the Maharal and Rabbi Yonatan Eybeschutz, the seven branches of the menorah in the Holy Temple represent the seven pillars of secular wisdom, knowledge, and science.

The Rambam in Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah (Ch. 2) states that when you study nature and the natural sciences, you fall madly in love with the One above. In fact, in Moreh Nevuchim the Rambam says if you want to see God, study the incredible wisdom found in nature. (The Hebrew word for nature, haTeva, has the gematria numerical equivalent of e-l-o-h-i-m, the name of God associated with His kingship over nature).

That is how the Rambam explains the verse in Parshat Ki Sisa when Moshe asked God to “Show me Your Glory.” God answered him, “I will make all My goodness pass before you…and you will see My back…” The Rambam explains God’s answer as follows: If you want to see God, it’s only by an indirect way, through the study of nature and the natural sciences.

Rabbeinu Bachya lists the seven sciences as (1) logic and language (2) mathematics (3) physics and chemistry (4) geometry and trigonometry (5) music (6) astronomy and (7) Divine Wisdom and theology.

The center lamp of the menorah represents the light of Torah, which all the other branches face. Rabbeinu Bachya explains that the central shaft of the menorah that holds all the branches together is the knowledge of the Wisdom of God. The other branches of the menorah are only the offshoots of that Divine Wisdom. As Psalm 111 states, “Reishit chachma yirat Hashem – the source of wisdom is the fear of God.”

The Vilna Gaon’s disciple Rabbi Yisrael of Shklov writes in Peat Hashulchan, “The Vilna Gaon explained that all secular wisdom is essential for our holy Torah and is included in it.” Rabbi Yisrael indicated that the Vilna Gaon had mastered all branches of secular wisdom and knowledge.

The Talmud has many examples of how our sages used science and mathematics to assist them in their understanding of Torah. The Talmud (Shabbat 75a) also criticizes a person who knows how to calculate the calendar and positions of the constellations but does not do so.

The message of the menorah is that the light of Torah and the light of secular knowledge complement each other – as long as the Torah is the central focus, foundation, and basis of all secular wisdom.

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Rabbi Ephraim Sprecher is dean of students at the Diaspora Yeshiva in Jerusalem.