The Torah portion of Behaalotecha begins with a description of the lighting of the Menorah. The second verse – “El mul pnei ha’Menorah, ya’iru shiv’at ha’neirot – The seven lamps shall cast their light toward the face of the Menorah,” poses a first-grade math question. Speak to Aaron and say to him: “When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall cast their light toward the face of the Menorah.”
The Menorah has seven stems – one central stem, three on the right and three on the left. Rashi explains that pnei ha’Menorah refers to the central stem and that the three lights on the left and the three on the right are tilted to point towards the central stem. That’s fine, except the verse should then have said “the six (side) candelabra shall point toward the pnei ha’Menorah.” How can the central (seventh) light point toward itself?
Other commentators concur with Rashi’s explanation that the pnei ha’Menorah is the central stem and try to reconcile this contradiction, but one of them gives a radically different interpretation
The Rashbam says the pnei ha’Menorah is not the central stem of the Menorah but rather the Shulchan Lechem Hapanim. According to the Rashbam, all seven lights of the Menorah are tilted to point to the “face of the Menorah” which is actually the Shulchan with the 12 loaves of Lechem Hapanim stacked on it.
This “revolutionary” approach of the Rashbam seems to indicate that a primary purpose of the Menorah is to cast light onto the Shulchan Lechem Hapanim in that the seven lights are purposely tilted toward it.
To understand what this means, we need to understand the essence of the Menorah and the Shulchan.
Chazal say that the Menorah is a blessing of spirituality. It represents the light of the Torah. The luchot and sefer Torah housed in the aron disseminate spiritual light through the parochet to the Menorah, which then radiates outward and illuminates the entire world with Torah.
The Shulchan Lechem Hapanim, on the other hand, is a blessing of material prosperity. The Shulchan is a conduit for the Shefa Elyon, Divine abundance, and radiates out a blessing of livelihood to the entire world.
This is echoed in a saying in Bava Batra (25b): “Someone wanting to become wise will go south and someone wanting to become rich will go north,” referring to the fact that the Menorah was on the southern side of the heichal while the Shulchan was on the northern side.
The Menorah and the Shulchan are a pair. They stand alongside each other immediately facing the parochet and the Kodesh HaKodashim. The lights of the Menorah (according to the Rashbam) are tilted toward and cast light on the Shulchan.
In last week’s parsha, Naso, we read about Birkat Kohanim. Rashi interprets the verse Ya’eir Hashem panav eilecha vi’chuneka” as “Hashem will show you a smiling face.” So, by casting light on the Shulchan, the Menorah is in fact smiling at the Shulchan. Sefer Meir Panim (70:143) describes how the Lechem Hapanim was stacked on the Shulchan, together with the two bowls of levonah, resemble a smiling “face” – so the Menorah and the Shulchan are “smiling” at each other.
The Menorah and the Shulchan are symbiotic. Chazal tell us in Pirkei Avot (3,17): “If there is no flour, there is no Torah. If there is no Torah, there is no flour.” Which is more important, the Torah or the flour?
In this world, there is need for both; neither can exist without the other. You need a Yissachar-Zevulun relationship to sustain Am Yisrael both spiritually and materially.
This is also the reason that when you appoint a king, he needs to have a sefer Torah “attached” to him at all times, because the king needs to perform various “material” duties, such as building roads, waging wars, etc., but must be guided constantly by the light of the Torah.
This is the model of the symbiotic Menorah and the Shulchan Lechem Hapanim. The Menorah shines its light of the Torah onto the Shulchan, and by virtue of the blessing of prosperity, the Shulchan “nourishes” the Menorah with its produce (olive oil).
In answer to which of the two are more important, the Menorah (light of the Torah) or the Shulchan (flour) – Ultimately the Torah is more important; that is why both the Menorah and the Shulchan face the aron habrit, the repository of the Torah.
Sefer Meir Panim (ch. 15) describes how the Menorah and the Shulchan reflect the two trees in Gan Eden – the eitz ha’chayim and the eitz ha’da’at. In fact the Shulchan is a kapara for the eitz ha’da’at, whose fruit, according to one opinion (R’ Yehuda, Sanhedrin 70a) was wheat. Therefore, the Menorah and the Shulchan stand side by side in the heichal, just as the two trees stood side by side in the center of Gan Eden.
Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: The asafsuf cried and complained to Moshe about the mon and demanded meat “like they ate in Egypt.” But they never ate meat in Egypt; as slaves they were never given meat – so what kind of claim is this?
Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: Why were the Sotah and the Omer the only two Menachot in the Mikdash made from barley grains? Barley is a lower form of grain than wheat and throughout the ages was used primarily for animal fodder. Subsequently, use of barley in the Menachot symbolizes a lower spiritual level, an animalistic level. When Am Yisrael left Egypt, they were at the lowest of the 49 levels of impurity and likened to “animals.” Therefore the Omer offering on Pesach reflects this. When they received the Torah they had ascended to the 49th level of tahara and could therefore bring an offering of wheat, the higher level grain – in the shtei halechem. Similarly, a sotah, suspected of adultery brings a Mincha offering from barley grains, reflecting the “animalistic” nature of the sin.