This week’s parsha describes the vessels of the Mishkan. One of the best known and most beautiful of the vessels is the menorah. According to the Midrash, Moshe had trouble understanding how the menorah should be fashioned, and God had to show him a vision of its form.
But what was difficult about making the menorah?
The menorah consisted of a base from which there emerged a central branch, and upon it the middle light. Three more branches emerged on each side of this light, each decorated with almond cups, bulbs and flowers. As if this is not complicated enough, the Torah commands that the menorah be made “of one piece” – i.e., there should be no joining or attachments; the entire menorah must be fashioned from one solid block of gold. Moshe could not imagine how such a complex creation could be made from a single slab, and so God had to show him so that he would be able to build it.
Beyond the technical requirement, a more profound issue may be manifest here. By its very structure, the menorah symbolizes two concepts that would seem to be contradictory: on one hand, multiplicity – expressed in the number of branches on both sides of the central trunk, and on the other hand unity – expressed in the fact that the menorah is fashioned whole, solid, of one piece.
Perhaps, beyond the technical difficulty, what Moshe found difficult to understand was this combination of multiplicity and unity. God had to show him that such a thing could indeed exist, so that Moshe could understand the secret of joining opposites together. To complete the picture and to clarify the matter further, the Torah adds another command: “They shall give light over against it” (Shemot 25:37) – meaning that the illumination of all the lights on each side is directed towards the central light.
It is through this command that the Torah reveals the secret of unity in multiplicity. If both sides rest on a common basis and aspire towards the same goal, then their differences on the way to attaining it create not divisiveness but rather harmonious multiplicity.
Thus, hassidim and mitnagdim, Sefardim and Ashkenazim, intellectual Torah sages and manual workmen, etc., can live with the understanding that each of them represents one brick in the great edifice that is Am Yisrael. As the Sages of Yavneh taught:
“I am a person and my neighbor is a person; I work in the city while he works in the fields; I get up in the morning to go to my work and he gets up in the morning to go to his work. Just as he does not haughty about my work, so I am not haughty about his work. And lest it be said that I do much while he does little, we are both the same: one may do more and the other less, so long as each directs his heart towards heaven.”