Reading the parshiyot of Vayakhel and Pekudei can seem, at times, like a prolonged experience of deja vu. Time and again we are told that Betzalel and Moshe followed G-d’s instructions for building the Mishkan to the letter, many times emphasizing this by using the exact phrases used in the instructions.
Given this, the subtle difference between the instructions for the menorah and its execution should catch our attention. Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar (Or HaChaim) points out that the language used by the Torah in Parshat Terumah (Shemot 25:31) is “And you shall make a pure gold menorah – menorat zahav tahor,” while in Parshat Vayakhel (ibid. 37:17) we read “And he made the menorah of pure gold –vaya’as et hamenorah zahav tahor”. This change, albeit minor, can have major implications.
The first formulation seems to define the menorah as a “gold menorah” – meaning it may not be made out of anything else. The second formulation describes a “menorah made of pure gold” – implying that the menorah may also, at least theoretically, be made out of other materials.
Two Menorah Models
When we search for this law in the Talmud, we find a curious conclusion (see Menachot 28). On the one hand, the menorah may in fact be made out of other materials, as long as they are considered respectable. That seems to imply that we are dealing here with a “menorah made of gold”, and not with a “gold menorah”. On the other hand, certain features of the menorah are surprisingly absent when the menorah is made out of other materials. Thus, a non-gold Menorah does not have to weigh exactly one kikar, does not have to be made out of one piece of raw material. and perhaps most importantly, such a menorah need not feature the goblets, knobs, and flowers which adorn a menorah which is made out of gold. The inevitable conclusion is that there are actually two separate types of menorah which may be lit in the Beit haMikdash: a gold menorah, and a menorah of other materials. Each of these comes with distinct laws and requirements of form.
This distinction can begin to explain the difference in wording between Terumah and Vayakhel – the former teaches about the gold menorah, while the latter addresses the simpler, non-gold version.
However, the question is still not settled. The menorah built in the desert was, in actuality, made out of gold – so why doesn’t the Torah use the term “gold menorah” when describing it?
Two Menorah Roles
To address this question, we need to reconsider our conclusion about the two types of menorah. Why would two menorah models exist in the first place? Perhaps we can suggest that the two types of menorah are related to the two roles which the menorah serves in the Beit haMikdash. At one level, the menorah is used to give light in the house of G-d, glorifying and exalting it (Ramban Bamidbar 8:4). However, the fire of the menorah serves another, more tacit role – it is a testimony to all the world, that the Shechinah resides in Israel. (Shabbat 22b) It stands to reason, that while the role of providing light can be achieved with any type of menorah, the special testimony exists only when the menorah is in its complete form – a gold menorah, fully ornamented according to its laws.
This distinction between the two roles of the menorah may also explain why Parshat Vayakhel retreats from the “gold menorah” model.
In a well-known midrash, our Sages say that Moshe was unable to follow G-d’s instructions in creating the menorah. It was G-d Himself who created the menorah out of a piece of gold thrown by Moshe into the fire. (Rashi Shemot 25:31). It seems that the gold menorah had to be made directly by G-d, so that it would be able to serve as a testimony to the residence of the Shechinah.
This may be why the Torah uses the language of the non-gold menorah when describing the forming of the menorah by BeTzalel and Moshe. The commandment was to make a gold menorah which would declare G-d’s presence, but Moshe was only able to make a ‘menorah of gold’. The ‘gold menorah’ could only be created by G-d.