In this week’s parasha, Terumah, we read of the instructions given to Moses concerning the building of the Mishkan. The Mishkan, often translated as Tabernacle, was the portable Temple the Israelites constructed while they were wandering in the Sinai wilderness. The Mishkan would serve both as their central place of worship for the generation of Israelites as well as become the model for the First and Second Temples built in Jerusalem.
Unlike many other commandments in the Torah, when it came to the Mishkan, the Israelites were encouraged to give gifts of the heart. The items provided for its construction had to be freely given rather than as an obligatory offering.
One of the first items built for the Mishkan was the Menorah. This seven-branched candelabra would serve as the symbol of Judaism and Jewish life for subsequent generations. The Magen David, or Star of David, would not arise as a symbol of Jews until the late middle ages. As an aside, the seven-branched menorah was a reminder to the Israelites of the days of the week. Each day another spot would be lit until it was time to celebrate the Sabbath, a gift God gave to humanity. According to a midrash, Moses actually struggled with the details of the Menorah. The rabbis seem to be implying that Moses was more of an organizational kind of leader rather than an artistic one. However as the midrash goes on to explain, God assured him that it would all be fine because the artists Betzalel and Oholiav would be endowed with the artistic spirit to bring the vision of the menorah to fruition.
One of the lessons we can learn from this is that we all have unique gifts. Like the lights of the menorah, it only shines brightest when all of the lights are lit. Perhaps this is why the menorah was the symbol of the Jewish people for so many generations because all of Israel only shines brightly when we all work together to illumine the world.
In today’s world where we can so easily find fault with each other, in today’s world where we are encouraged to actively disagree on the principle that we are the only ones who are in the right, our Torah portion is reminding us that the menorah only works if all lights, which must be all level with each other, and which are separate and unique, also serve a purpose together.
So perhaps when we see a menorah we can be reminded to see the holy in each other even when we do disagree.
Rabbi Benjamin Sharff