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Parashat Terumah 5758--1998
A Candelabrum of Pure Gold
Rabbi Shimon Golan
Midrasha for Women
This week, Parashat Terumah, we begin a series of five readings whose principle concern is the Tabernacle and its furnishings. Much has been written about the problematic issue of the very command to build a Tabernacle and about the questions which, according to the Sages, Moses himself raised upon receiving the command. In Pesikta de-Rav Kahana (2) we read:
"Three things that Moses heard from the Almighty startled him and made him apprehensive. When He said to him, "And let them make Me a sanctuary" (Ex. 25:8), Moses said to the Holy One, blessed be He, "Lord of the Universe, all the Heavens cannot contain You, yet You say to make You a sanctuary?"
For this reason, the generally accepted exegetical view is that the Tabernacle and its furnishings were not commanded to satisfy a need of G-d, as it were, but to fullfill specific needs of human beings. One could add that more than ordinary human"needs" are at issue: the furnishings also hint at sublime and esoteric things. This idea is formulated by Kli Yakar:
"All the details concerning the building of the Tabernacle, its furnishings and how they are all to be made, can be found in the Talmud. Nothing is to be added thereto, nor detracted; nor does any new
insight remain [for the Biblical commentators ], save to find in the biblical details hints at the secret as well as the revealed; for it is inconceivable that all these details should have been without intent".
This search for additional significance is particularly evident in the construction of the candelabrum and the lamps, as we see from the Sage's homily in the Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 22b):
"Place the lampstand outside the curtain of the Ark of the Pact." Does [the Holy One, blessed be He] need its light? All forty years that the Children of Israel wandered in the wilderness, were they not following His light? However, the lampstand attests to mankind that the Divine Presence dwells
among Israel." Further on in this Talmudic discussion Rav is cited as saying that there is proof for this from the miracle of the westernmost candle: " the same amount of oil was placed in it as in the one next to it; all the other candles were lit from it, yet that candle would finish last."
Rav Kook (from Shemuot Ha-Raya"h, Rav Kook's notes on his Seudah Shelishit discourses, Jerusalem 1939) gives this interpretation additional depth:
"Two forces were contained in the candelabrum: the force of the Sublime and the force of nature: nature, insofar as the candelabrum was kindled by human beings and fresh oil was added each day... But the candelabrum also reveals the force of the Almighty, in the miracle of the westernmost lamp, which attests that the Divine Presence dwells among Israel, insofar as all seven of the lamps together allude to seven classes of wisdom, three on one side and three on the other, all facing the central lamp which stands for supreme wisdom. Nevertheless, the candelabrum stood outside the Ark curtain, to show that two kinds of sanctity were given to Israel: to follow the laws of nature, and to contravene the laws of nature when it be G-d's will."
The underlying assumption of Rav Kook's remarks is that the candelabrum represents all sorts of wisdom. This message is undoubtedly hinted also by Rabbi Yitzhak (Bava Batra 25b): "Let those who wish to acquire wisdom go south, and those who wish for riches, north; the signs for this are that
the table was situated by the north wall, and the candelabrum by the south." Accordingly, in the Kuzari, Rabbi Judah Ha-Levy (2.26) describes the purpose of the various Tabernacle furnishings:
"On this account G-d commanded to make the altar for offerings, the altar for incense, and the candelabrum... The altar for offerings, lit with revealed (natural) fire which is known to us; and the altar of gold, lit with the hidden, finer fire; and the candelabrum, which represents the light of
wisdom and knowledge."
Following this line of thought, we can explain the ideological background to the halakhic controversy
between Maimonides and R. Abraham b. David about kindling the candelabrum's lamps. Maimonides (Code, Hilchot Biat Mikdash 9.7) ruled that "the lamps may be lit by outsiders. Thus, if the priest adjusted the lamps and brought the candelabrum outside, it may be lit [by an outsider]." R. Abraham b. David, on the other hand, says that such kindling is acceptable only after the fact: "[Maimonides] went too far when he said that outsiders may kindle [the lamps]; rather, if it should happen to have been kindled [by outsiders], it is acceptable."
Rabbi Amiel (Derashot El Ami, Part 3, p. 8) explains this difference of opinion in terms of the attitudes taken by Maimonides and R. Abraham b. David towards general knowledge and secular studies, especially philosophy: "Maimonides, who even brought Aristotle within the realm of Judaism, and who "converted" all of Greek thought, ... knew full well that the main point was not kindling the lamps, rather, adjusting them [Editor's note: The Hebrew word for adjusting or preparing the wicks is hatava, which also means "improving, making better"]. The lamps could be lit outside, by others, and brought into the Sanctuary and improved, and that would be acceptable from the outset.... R. Abraham b. David, who always challenged Maimonides in this regard, ... tried to drive a wedge between Torah and philosophy. According to his approach, he was justified in challenging Maimonides' ruling here, for he saw no difference between kindling and adjusting [or improving] the lamps for he held that both had to issue from a sacred source so that the act be started and completed appropriately."
We have shown an example of how Jewish exegetes related symbolically to one of the Tabernacle's furnishings. May it be G-d's will that discussion and explanation of the Temple and its implements be more than purely theoretical discussions and that we see the Temple and its furnishings restored to their former glory.