The weekly Torah portion and its lessons for all people

Beha'aloscha, Numbers 8:1-12:16
Unity within Diversity

by Avraham ben Yaakov

"And God spoke to Moses, saying: 'Speak to Aaron and say to him: When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the candlestick. And this was the work of the candlestick, beaten work of gold. according to the pattern which God had shown Moses, so he made the candlestick."

Numbers 8:2, 4

Continuing on from the last two portions explaining the arrangements in the Sanctuary, our present portion opens with instructions to the High Priest about the daily kindling of the lights of the Candelabrum (Menorah). In parallel, this week's prophetic passage ("Haftara") traditionally read after the weekly Synagogue Torah reading includes Zechariah's vision of the heavenly candelabrum (Zechariah 4:2-3).

The design of the Temple candelabrum, with its central shaft and six branches, each supporting one of its seven lamps and adorned with decorative cups, knops and flowers, is set forth in Exodus 25:31-37. All of these components were to be made specifically "of one piece: the whole of it one beaten work of pure gold" (verse 36).

This comes to teach us that diverse elements (the seven branches and their ornaments) can co-exist in unity (one piece of gold).

Sevens in Nature

The natural creation was traditionally thought to be made up of sevens, such as the seven continents, seven seas and seven classical planets (the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn). From the names of these planets come the names of the seven days of our week.

The theme of seven recurs throughout the Torah, the opening verse of which contains seven Hebrew words introducing the account of Creation in seven "days" (Genesis 1).

The sign of God's Covenant with humanity after Noah's flood was the rainbow (Genesis 9:13-16). This consists of the seven chief colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. All are refractions of white light: the different hues lie adjacent to and work with one another, so that the rainbow shines as one whole through the coherence and harmony of its component parts.

Unity amidst diversity

The seven-branched Temple Candelabrum, the Menorah, is a universal symbol of unity amidst diversity. Significantly, Torah law forbids one to make a candelabrum for one's own personal use in the same form as that of the Temple Menorah (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of the Temple 7:10). The Menorah cannot be someone's private, personal property. There can only be one Menorah: that of the Temple, dedicated to the glory of God and not to the glorification of any specific individual or group. (The Chanukah candelabrum lit annually in private homes and many public locations has eight branches, relating to the eight days of the Chanukah festival commemorating the Second Temple miracle when one remaining flask of pure oil was sufficient to kindle the Menorah for eight days.)

The Temple was in no need of a lamp to provide interior lighting, because the Temple itself emanates light! The daily kindling of the Menorah by the priest was intended to radiate the light of God and His Torah from the Temple out to the entire world.

Just as the seven colors of the rainbow emanate from one source of white light, so the seven branches of the Menorah make up a single "tree" of light. Its seven branches allude to the seven chief attributes from which the astonishing plurality and diversity of the world around us derives: Kindness, Strength, Harmony, Victory, Splendor, Purity and Kingship.

Correspondingly, the human face has its own seven "lights": two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and one mouth, which rules over us like a king .

In the words of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov :

To gain spiritual understanding and awareness, you must sanctify the seven "lamps" of your head: your mouth, nostrils, ears and eyes. Guard your mouth from speaking any falsehood; through humility and patience, sanctify your nostrils with the fear of Heaven, as it is written: "...he will scent the fear of God" (Isaiah 11:3). Use your ears to attend to the words of the wise: believe in what they say. Lower your eyes and avert them from evil. Sanctifying the seven "lamps" of the head can bring you to deeper spiritual understanding and awareness, and your heart will then burn with passion for God. These heights of understanding are a blessing from God that is bestowed from above without preliminaries and introductions: this is the gift of holy spirit.

Likutey Moharan I, 21

The seven branches of the Menorah also correspond to the Seven Universal Laws of the Children of Noah, with whom God struck His Covenant after the flood with the sign of the seven-colored rainbow.

A universal symbol

The universal relevance of the Menorah as a symbol of unity amidst diversity for all humanity finds expression in Psalm 67, a paean of thanksgiving to God by all the nations and a prayer for universal blessing:

For the Leader; with string-music; A Psalm, a Song:

1. God be gracious to us, and bless us; may He shine His face toward us; Selah!

2. That Your way may be known upon earth, Your salvation among all nations.

3. Let the peoples give thanks to You, O God; let the peoples give thanks to You, all of them.

4. Let the nations be glad and sing for joy; for You will judge the peoples with equity, and lead the nations upon earth. Selah

5. Let the peoples give thanks to You, O God; let the peoples give thanks to You, all of them.

6. The earth has yielded her increase; may God - our God - bless us.

7. May God bless us, and let all the ends of the earth fear Him.

Besides the first line, which is a title or superscription, this truly universal Psalm consists of seven verses. As an aid to prayer and meditation, the Hebrew text of this Psalm is often written in the form of the Menorah. Note that verse 4 is the longest of all: this forms the central shaft of the Menorah and its base, while verses 1-3 and 5-7 are arranged on either side, corresponding to the six branches.

Psalm 67 written in Hebrew in form of Menorah.
Verse 1 is on left hand side, verse 7 on right hand side.

Seventy branches

When King Solomon built his Temple, he made ten golden candelabra which stood in two rows in front of the Menorah of Moses (II Chronicles 4:7, Talmud Tractate Shekalim 18a). These ten candelabra, each with its own seven branches, together had a total of seventy branches - corresponding to the seventy nations that developed from the offspring of Noah and his sons. All these individual branches, each with their own attributes and characteristics, derive their power from the refractions of the "colors" or "attributes" contained in the light emanating from seven branches of the archetypal Menorah of Moses, all made of one piece, corresponding to the colors of the rainbow, which are all refractions of unitary white light.

When all work together in harmony, there is peace!





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