ONE GOLD BLOCK – B’ha’alot’kha – Num. 8-12, by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
This week’s Torah reading opens with instructions to Aaron the High Priest for lighting the Menorah, the sacred candelabrum. Perhaps the most universal symbol of Judaism, this 7-branched candlestick appears on buildings, products and stationery. It stands proudly in synagogues. It signifies victory, and with two added branches it becomes the trademark of Hanukkah.
It also appears on an arch in Rome to symbolize Israel’s defeat. Capturing the Menorah made the Romans believe they had indeed ended the Jewish nation. How wrong they were.
We honor the Star of David, but it won’t replace the Menorah. Not on Shabos, and certainly not on Hanukkah. In fact, this week’s Haftorah from the prophet Zechariah (“Sing and rejoice, daughter of Zion!”) is the same one we read on Hanukkah.
What is so special about this candlestick? One distinction is the way it is made. This was not put together piece by piece, a base, then attach a shaft and six branches. This, we learn in the text of the Book of Exodus and elaborated by the Talmud and the commentators, was formed from one block of gold. “Of beaten work shall the candlestick be made. Its base, its shaft, its cups, its knobs and its flowers shall be part of it.” One block of gold, beaten into shape. Three branches extended on each side, and one in the center. And the cups were shaped so as to project the light forward, not just straight up. The Menorah should spread Divine light to the world.
Truly, the Menorah represents our mission and our history. Spreading light, both spiritual and secular, continues even if some enemies deny it. It represents the Jewish people, all of us. And it all starts from that one block of gold – the Torah.
Today’s global Menorah might not be limited to 6 – or even 8 – branches. Haredim, Mizrahim, Chabad, Satmar, Modern Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Renewal, Ykar – where do you stop? The one essential quality we all share, we need to treasure, to preserve, and do our best to extend, is our mutual source – that One Block of Gold. Interpretations vary – and how! – but the shared foundation lives. It lives, it gives us light, it enables us to spread light – to each other and to the world.
Aaron lit the original Menorah, and set the pattern. Now it’s our turn. Shine the light outward.
Before we can succeed in doing that, however, we must shine that light inward. We need to learn our heritage well, well enough to be comfortable with it. The principles and practices that define Jewish life, past and present, produce the fuel for the light that we can shine and share. Pick an area of Judaism that you want to make your own. Chances are you can find adult courses and discussion groups that explore it – whether in person or on line. Further possibilities can lead to other areas, a broader acquaintance. As the light grows, your opportunity grows with it. When you can kindle some light on the Calendar – or on Personal Identity – or Jerusalem in our history – you will know you are ready to start shining that light outward. Just remember the words that every observant Jewish woman pronounces on Sabbath and holiday evenings: “V’tzivonnu l’hadlik ner” – We are commanded to kindle a light.
Upward and outward, keep it burning.