Photo Credit:

The Menorah had seven stems. One stem, known as the Ner Hama’aravi, was in the middle and its light burned for twenty-four hours, even though the quantity of oil poured in to it was sufficient for only twelve hours. This central stem symbolized the spiritual life of the Torah. The message is that even though we, as humans, must spend most of the day tending to our physical needs, if we do so with the Torah in mind, if we eat and sleep in order to recharge our batteries so that we can better serve Him, then it is as if our entire lives were dedicated to the service of G-d twenty-four hours a day. Our physical lives are like the match that lights the eternal light. If we divorce ourselves from it, we will burn out. If we join it, we will last forever.

The seven stems of the Menorah symbolize the seven wisdoms of the world. They all emanate from the central wisdom of the divine Torah and they have purpose only when they too contribute to the Torah. Whatever G-d-given talents a person is gifted with, they only have meaning if they are used in the service of the Torah. When Ben Bag Bag says, “Turn the pages of the Torah and you will find everything in it” (Avos 5:22), he does not necessarily mean that the Torah contains all mathematical, medical, scientific answers for everything. What he means is that these wisdoms, when applied for the sake of the Torah, become part of Torah. So, we need mathematicians to figure out the Jewish calendar, doctors to save lives, artisans to build the Beis Hamikdash, and each one of us with his own talents contributes to the light of the Torah enabling it to shine and survive perpetually. That is why the six stems representing secular wisdom all faced toward the central stem of Torah.


Furthermore, the six stems of the Menorah were not independently fashioned and then soldered on to the central stem. Rather they were part of and beaten out of one solid piece of gold. This means that any seeming contradiction between secular wisdom and Torah wisdom is really no contradiction at all, or if it is, its solution is the solution that the Torah dictates, because all wisdom is subservient to the Torah.

Aharon was the one who was given the job of lighting the Menorah each day because he dedicated his entire life to the service of G-d and His Torah even before Moshe came on the scene. If the spirit of G-d is going to be perpetually with us, it is on account of the merit of our leaders who set the example for others to follow. Aharon set this example by the way he lived so only he could initiate the spark in us that would develop into perpetual light. Indeed, it was not a given that the Ner Ma’aravi would always burn for twenty-four hours. It depended on who lit it. We are told that during the days of Shimon Hatzadik, the Ner Ma’aravi burned for twenty-four hours, but after him, sometimes it did and sometimes it did not, depending on the virtues of the high priest of the era. (Menachos 86b.)

The Menorah was fashioned out of one piece of gold from its base to its flowers. The base of the Torah symbolizes the 613 commandments and the flowers symbolize the ordinary talk of those that follow it. We know that when Chazal spoke to each other about matters of daily life, their words were always infused with spiritual ideas. We are told that Rabbi Shimon was relating a story about Tebi the servant of Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel who slept under the bed in the sukkah. This was just a story told in passing outside the beis hamidrash, but from it we derive two halachos. First, that a servant is exempt from the obligation of sitting in the sukkah; second, that one is not permitted to sleep under the bed in the sukkah. These are the flowers the Torah is referring to in the Menorah – the ordinary talk of talmidei chachamim whose lives are so infused with the values of Torah that even their idle talk becomes law.

Moshe asks Yisro to join the nation of Israel on its trek to the land of Israel. Yisro refuses and prefers to go back to his own country and convert his countrymen to Judaism (Bamidbar 10:29-32.). Moshe entreats him and says, “Al na ta’azov osanu, ki al kein yadatah chanoseinu bamidbar vehayisa lanu le’enayim – Do not abandon us, after all you are familiar with the places where we are going to camp in the desert and you can be our guide.” Rashi explains that what Moshe meant is that Yisro had witnessed the miracles that G–d performed for the Jews in the desert and that therefore it was his fate to remain with them and not return to his own land. Rashi also points out several other places in the Torah where the words “al kein” are used. These words are used when certain experiences people have in life are not random, but are meant to guide their destiny. For example, when the three angels happen upon the tent of Avraham and he urges them to stay, he tells them, “Ki al kein avartem al avdechem – It is for this purpose that you passed by my tent.” The purpose, of course, was to bring the good tidings to Sarah that she would have a child and to destroy Sedom.

The purpose behind Yisro’s happening to join the Jews in the desert was to witness the miracles that occurred and draw the correct conclusion, namely that he should become part of the Jewish people in Israel. Unfortunately, Yisro, who gave the Jews many good ideas, did not draw the correct conclusion for himself and eventually left to go back to his own country. Rav Dovid used to say that nothing that happens to one in life is coincidental. Even if one passes by people in the street and one overhears part of a conversation, one was meant to hear it.

The Jews began their trek to Israel by leaving the mountain of G-d (10:33). They traveled for three days taking the Holy Ark with the Torah inside with them. We are told that the Holy Ark symbolizes us ourselves and that even when we travel, the Torah should be with us. Nevertheless, when it comes to describing the travels of the Jews with the Holy Ark, the Torah uses the word “Vayehi binso’ah Ha’aron.” The word Vayehi always presages something foreboding and negative, like “Vayehi bimei Achashveirosh.” What is the Torah lamenting here?

It is warning the Jews that they are beginning to embark on a different life. They are leaving the Har Hashem where they heard the word of G-d and they are leaving the life of the desert where all of their physical needs were taken care of, with no investment of time and effort on their part. That life gave them all the time in the world to study the Torah free from the worries of a livelihood. Now, however, they were about to enter the real world, where the physical and spiritual juggle and compete for space. “If a person plows his field when it is time to plow, sows his seeds when it is time to sow, reaps his produce when it is time to reap, thrashes his grain when it is time to thrash and winnows the grain when it is time to winnow, when will he have time to learn Torah?” (Berachos 35b). Clearly the studying of Torah is going to suffer once we enter the land of Israel and take over the responsibility of our own livelihood. Perhaps nobody phrased this dilemma better than King David who said that his only wish was to sit in the house of G-d all the days of his life and enjoy the beauty of the Torah. But alas, he too could not afford this luxury and had to find study time between leading the people and fighting wars. That is the meaning of “Vayehi.”

However, there is always down time in life. “Uvenucho yomar shuva Hashem.” The trick is to supplement the learning deficit forced upon us in times of stress with extra study in times of calm to make up the shortfall.

Share this article on WhatsApp:

Previous articleNew Louisiana Law Mandates Ten Commandments in Public Classrooms
Next articleTime To Teach The Science: Jews Are Indigenous To The Land Of Israel
Raphael Grunfeld received semicha in Yoreh Yoreh from Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem of America and in Yadin Yadin from Rav Dovid Feinstein. A partner at the Wall Street law firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP, Rabbi Grunfeld is the author of “Ner Eyal: A Guide to Seder Nashim, Nezikin, Kodashim, Taharot and Zerayim” and “Ner Eyal: A Guide to the Laws of Shabbat and Festivals in Seder Moed.” Questions for the author can be sent to [email protected].