“I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, and I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations.” (Is.42:6)
The Midrash Rabbah calls the Menorah of the Temple the “light of the world” (Lev.Rabbah 31:7)
Rashi says: “Moses was perplexed by the construction of the Menorah, until the Holy One, Blessed be He, showed him a Menorah of fire.”
“It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells in Him.” (Dan.2:22)
The Menorah of the Tabernacle/Temple is fascinating. This is because, while it chiefly lights the space within the Tabernacle itself, shining most prominently towards the Table of Showbread, it also stands for the light which shines out from the Temple, towards not just the Jewish people, but the whole world. More than any other aspect of Jewish tradition, the Menorah represents a deep and meaningful connection between God’s chosen people and the nations. This is recognized within the Oral Tradition and reflected prominently in the scriptures themselves, particularly the prophets.
Today, a giant Menorah, encased in glass, stands in Israel, though the Temple does not. It’s display is beautiful, yet reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast, and the rose in the glass. Like the fantasy story, it represents the hope of the future redemption.
The light of the Menorah stands for the guidance and testimony of the LORD and of His people. It emanates outward from the center of God’s house and shines forth to the people and to the nations of the world.
The Talmud connects the Torah and the light of the Menorah together and references the tragedy of losing the teachers of Israel, as those who are the responsible guardians of the light:
“He who extinguishes the light of the world by killing the Torah Sages, as it is written: “For the mitzva is a lamp, and the Torah is light” (Prov.6:23), should go and occupy himself with the light of the world, the Temple, as it is written with regard to the Temple: “And all the nations shall flow (venaharu) unto it” (Is.2:2), the word venaharu alluding to light (nehora). There are those who say that this is what he said to him: he who blinded the eye of the world, as it is written in reference to the Sages: “And if it be committed through ignorance by the eyes of the congregation” (Num.15:24), should go and occupy himself with the eye of the world, the Temple…” (Talmud Bava Batra 4a, Koren Steinsaltz edition)
This idea is reinforced elsewhere in the scriptures.
“Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” (Is.60:3)
The Master taught us to associate him with this same light:
“While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (Jn.9:5)
It’s important to see the connection between the light and the fire which creates it. In a tangible way, the flame of the Menorah can be compared to the fire of inner faith which breaks forth upon the darkness, casting it out.
This idea, communicated by the apostles, is also expressed within Kabbalistic thought, according to Gershom Sholem, as an important aspect of emuna (faith) and devakut (the personal relationship with God in intimacy) as “destroying the exile from within.”
It is an inner reality that “breaks forth” upon that which is without.
We must take responsibility, in this context, to keep the fire lit within, even like the Maccabees who risked life and limb to preserve the sanctity of the light and experienced the miracle which we celebrate today during Chanukkah.
“For this reason it says, “Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.” (Eph.5:14)
What causes the fire to go out?
“Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.” (Matt.24:12)
According to the Sages, the ongoing study of Torah is the “preservation of the flame” in the absence of the Temple.
But truly, there must be more. There must be an inner life that is fueled by faith towards God and His promises, or the study of Torah will lack vitality. We must reach inside, to what God has placed there, and draw from the seed of faith until it brings forth light and new growth in the midst of darkness.
“Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world…the heart has its beaches, its homeland and thoughts of its own…wake now, discover that you are the song that the morning brings…” (Grateful Dead)