Friday, June 21, 2019 /18 Sivan, 5779
Parashat B’ha-a-lot’kha Numbers 8:1-12:16
Commonly, when I visit a congregant, or someone in their home, perhaps for a social visit, or to meet in preparation for a funeral, and I enter their living room, I let my eyes wander. I notice the art – are there Jewish themes? Are there Jewish books on the bookshelves? And, are there pieces of Judaica sitting on the shelves or mantles?
And, over the years the Judaica which I have observed most commonly is a menorah – more than kiddush cups or Passover plates. Admittedly, most persons had Chanukah menorahs – not seven-branched Shabbat candelabra – but they are still menorahs – Jewish candleholders first mentioned in the Torah. And, in this week’s portion, we read of the command to erect and light the lampstand in ancient days. “When you mount the lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lampstand.” (Num. 8:2)
Why is this the most common article found in Jewish homes?
Arguably, the menorah is the most recognized Jewish symbol – as much as the Star of David. In fact, the original and enduring symbol for the city of Jerusalem was, and is, the seven-branched menorah. Today, a massive Menorah stands just outside the Kenesset, Israel’s parliament. It harkens back to the days of David and Solomon when an even larger Menorah, made of hammered gold just like the one from this week’s Torah portion, stood atop the highest peak in Jerusalem in the courtyard of the ancient Temple. That menorah reflected sunlight all over the beautiful city, which then earned the moniker, “City of Gold.”
Moreover, in most synagogue sanctuaries across the globe, a seven-branched Shabbat menorah can be found, including on the Western wall of our own Temple in San Pedro (even if ours is in the shape of a sailing ship riding the waves!). It is truly the ubiquitous symbol of who we are.
My thought is that, whether it is a 9-branched Chanukah menorah or a 7-branched Shabbat menorah, the common theme is that the menorah allows light to shine and penetrate the dark. Nothing more essentially conveys the central teaching of Jewish ethics than this charge, whether it is expressed in studying or teaching, doing social justice, or offering words of prayer. Our task is to emulate God, whose first command was, “Let there be light!”
Rabbi Doug Kohn