The Structure of the Menorah and the Structure of the Torah

Parshat Behaalotcha: The Structure of the Menorah and the Structure of the Torah

Rabbi Boaz Pash is the Rosh Kollel of the Joseph and Gwendolyn Straus Rabbinical Seminary‘s Torat Yosef Kollel

At the beginning of this week’s Parsha, we read the following:

“Hashem spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and say to him, “When you mount the lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lampstand.” Aaron did so; he mounted the lamps at the front of the lampstand, as Hashem had commanded Moses. Now this is how the lampstand was made: it was hammered work of gold, hammered from base to petal. According to the pattern that Hashem had shown Moses, so was the lampstand made.” (Numbers, 8:1-4)

The Midrash on these verses cites a verse from the Book of Psalms:

“The words You inscribed give light, and grant understanding to the simple.”
(Psalms 119:103)

The Midrash continues as follows: “The height of the Menorah was seventeen tefahim [hand-lengths]”. It explains that in the Gemara, there is a dispute over whether the height of the Menorah was 17 or 18 tefahim. The Midrash accepts the first opinion – that it was 17 tefahim tall. This Midrash is considered a Midrash Peli’a – meaning that the lesson it is trying to teach us is unclear.

Rabbi Yaakov Shimshon of Szepetówka explains the Midrash as follows:

“The words You inscribed give light”: this is a reference to the verse that begins each of the Five Books of Moses. Here they are:

  1. “In the beginning, Hashem created the heavens and the Earth.” (Genesis 1:1)
  2. “These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each coming with his household.” (Exodus 1:1)
  3. “Hashem called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying:” (Leviticus 1:1)
  4. “On the first day of the second month, in the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt, Hashem spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the Tent of Meeting, saying:” (Numbers 1:1)
  5. “These are the words that Moses addressed to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan. Through the wilderness, in the Arabah near Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Di-zahab.” (Deuteronomy 1:1)

How many words are in each verse? Let’s count them: 

The first verse of Genesis contains 7 words.

The first verse of Exodus contains 11 words. 

The first verse of Leviticus contains 9 words.

The first verse of Numbers contains 17 words.

The first verse of Deuteronomy contains 22 words.

Now, let’s return to our discussion of the Menorah – which numbers do we encounter here?

“You shall make a lampstand of pure gold; the lampstand shall be made of hammered work; its base and its shaft, its cups, calyxes, and petals shall be of one piece. Six branches shall issue from its sides; three branches from one side of the lampstand and three branches from the other side of the lampstand. On one branch there shall be three cups shaped like almond-blossoms, each with calyx and petals, and on the next branch there shall be three cups shaped like almond-blossoms, each with calyx and petals; so for all six branches issuing from the lampstand. And on the lampstand itself there shall be four cups shaped like almond-blossoms, each with calyx and petals: a calyx, of one piece with it, under a pair of branches; and a calyx, of one piece with it, under the second pair of branches, and a calyx, of one piece with it, under the last pair of branches; so for all six branches issuing from the lampstand. Their calyxes and their stems shall be of one piece with it, the whole of it a single hammered piece of pure gold. Make its seven lamps—the lamps shall be so mounted as to give the light on its front side.” (Numbers 25:31-37)

We see that the Menorah had 7 branches and 9 petals (one on each branch, and another two on the central branch), 11 calyxes (one one each branch, and another four on the central branch), 22 cups (three on each branch, and one more on the central branch). As mentioned earlier, the Menorah was 17 tefahim tall.

The Menorah symbolizes the Torah. Just like the Menorah, the Torah gives us light and wisdom, as we read in the verse: “For the commandment is a lamp.” (Proverbs 6:23). These numbers, found in the structure of the Menorah, represent each of the Five Books of Moses, based on the number of words in the first verse of each book.  

The 7 branches of the Menorah are likened to the number of words in the first verse of the Book of Genesis.

The 11 cups of the Menorah are likened to the number of words in the first verse of the Book of Exodus.

The 9 petals of the Menorah are likened to the number of words in the first verse of the Book of Leviticus.

17 tefahim – the height of the Menorah – is likened to the number of words in the first verse of the Book of Numbers.

The 22 calyxes of the Menorah are likened to the number of words in the first verse of the Book of Leviticus.

This is what the Midrash was alluding to by saying: “For the commandment is a Lamp” – each of the opening verses of each of the Five Books of Moses is represented in the illuminating Menorah

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