columnTorah Portion

The vibrant menorah

Helping to mold honor and worth in a world with so many conflicting values.

Chanukah menorah. Credit: Saildancer/Pixabay.
Chanukah menorah. Credit: Saildancer/Pixabay.
Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Rabbi Yossy Goldman is Life Rabbi Emeritus of Sydenham Shul in Johannesburg and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. He is the author of From Where I Stand, on the weekly Torah readings, available from and Amazon.

Does your synagogue have a logo? Is there a symbol used as an emblem on its letterhead and the walls of the shul? Perhaps it’s just the good old-fashioned Magen David. Not all shuls have logos, but in recent years, with corporate branding becoming more popular in business, many have adapted the idea to the synagogue, too.

I remember that when I first joined my own shul—the Sydenham Highlands North Congregation in Johannesburg—back in 1986, I noticed that there was a rather creatively designed menorah that was all over the shul campus. There was a giant brass one over the Aron Kodesh and smaller ones etched onto the glass doors throughout the buildings.

So, when I was looking to have a new letterhead and stationery designed (the old one was very old and tired, probably dating back to the 1940s), I immediately thought of this menorah design as the obvious shul “logo.” There is no shortage of Magen Davids around the shul, but this menorah was unique to Sydenham and, indeed, it went on to become a most recognizable symbol.

This week’s Torah portion, Beha’alotecha, begins with instructions to kindle the menorah in the Temple daily. The menorah candelabra had seven lights. Why seven? The Yalkut Shimoni writes that the seven lights on the candelabra in the Temple correspond to the seven days of Creation. For every day of the week, there was a light to illuminate our everyday lives. We need the Godly light to give us insight and inspiration in the challenges of living upright and virtuous lives in a world beset by strange ideas and weird and not-so-wonderful values.

We are taught that the windows in Jerusalem’s Holy Temples of old were constructed differently from most windows. Ordinarily, we use windows to bring the outside light and warmth into the house. But the windows in the Temple were designed for the light of the menorah to shine into the outside world beyond the Temple. “Do I need light?” asked God about the menorah, indicating explicitly that the menorah’s light was intended to cast its glow beyond the holy environs into the outside world that so desperately needs its light and its message.

The seven days of the week represent the different areas, categories and dimensions of life. We need the light of the menorah to illuminate all of them as we plot our course in life. How can we keep all the facets of our lives worthy, noble and honorable while living in a wide, open world with so many conflicting values?

Take science. Without the Godly light showing us the way, science alone can produce Frankensteins, biological weapons, chemical warfare or nuclear technology that, if it falls into the wrong hands, may well threaten the security of the entire world.

What about art? Without a moral guiding light, we have seen pornography on stage in the name of culture and shameless nudity proclaiming the right to “free expression.” Are they uninhibited and artsy or just decadent?

And politics? In many countries around the world, bribery and corruption are so ingrained and common that it’s almost taken for granted. Here in South Africa, it has been called out but, sadly, not yet rooted out.

Nor is medicine immune. Ethics committees notwithstanding, we still have much to worry about when it comes to things like cloning. Will the “Boys from Brazil” become a reality? Sanctity of life issues are far from settled, whether at the beginning or the end of life.

Clearly, there is a pressing need for a higher, guiding light that can illuminate these dark and dangerous moral dilemmas.

The story is told of a fellow who became a master forger of documents. Diplomas, certificates, degrees, whatever you needed this guy could master it. One day, the forger’s daughter needed life-saving surgery. Tragically, she died on the operating table. When he visited the surgeon’s offices, he was shocked to see that the surgeon’s framed medical degree on the wall was one of the forger’s own masterpieces!

We need spiritual guidance in all of life’s endeavors; otherwise, we may face tragic outcomes.

The menorah, a symbol of Divine Light, represents the Godly wisdom and vision for the world to help human creativity develop and thrive without deteriorating into dishonorable, deviant behavior.

May we all see the light of the menorah, be guided by it, and may it illuminate our world.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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