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 The Big Collision Let There be Light

The Shape of The Menorah

The Torah teaches us about the seven branched lamp in the Sanctuary which was lit by Aaron every evening. The details about how the Menorah should be made are regarded by the Torah as being very important. the shape of the Menorah should have was communicated to Moses in a divine vision (Numbers 8:4).

We usually think of the Menorah in the Sanctuary or Temple as having curved branches. It is depicted in this way in many illustrations and also in synagogue decorations. Many Chanukah Menorahs are made with curved branches, and this design is often considered a sign of Judaism.

However, a number of references to the Menorah by the Sages indicate that it had straight branches. There is even a drawing by the great Maimonides himself, illustrating the Menorah, which has straight branches, not curved.

From where did we get the idea of curved branches, despite the fact that the Rabbis described it differently? One suggestion is that this comes from the Arch of Titus in Rome.

Titus destroyed the Temple and an arch was built in his honour. On the arch there is a bas-relief showing the spoils he bought home from Jerusalem. This depicts a Candelabrum with seven branches, which curve upwards in the familiar semi-circle. It is likely that the famous Roman arch influenced the way people later depicted the Menorah.

Ancient Jewish sources indicate that there were many Candelabra in the Temple. They may well have been made in different ways. According to the Rabbis, the Menorah, the one that was in the holy section of the Temple, was nearly five foot high, and had straight branches.

It has been suggested that the illustration on the Arch of Titus is of a different, smaller candelabrum. The bas-relief shows a candlestick with a dragon on its base. The dragon was a Roman symbol. The artist who sculpted the Arch may never have seen a Jewish Menorah, but simply used his own imagination.

It is a pity that this has influenced the way Jews think of one of the most important items in the Temple, constructed with the guidance of a vision from G-d. However, now that the error has been noted, we can gradually set the record straight!

The Significance Of The Menorah

The Sages explain the imagery of the Menorah as follows: the seven lamps represent seven types of divine radiance, called by the kabbalists the seven "Sefirot". These are seven different aspects of G-d's guidance of the world: His Kindness, Severity, Mercy and so on.

These seven kinds of divine quality flow downwards, from each lamp, along the seven branches, into the central stem. The Torah tells us that there was a design of 'goblets' on the branches. According to Maimonides' drawing, these goblets are inverted, expressing the flow downwards.

The central stem signifies the seventh Sefirah - Malchut - (Kingship), the central conduit of the divine flow which pours downwards into the world, giving it life and blessing.

The Menorah therefore expresses the way that G-d pours life-force into the world.

 The Big Collision Let There be Light

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