Torah for the Times

Friday,February 15 - 5 Adar, 5773

Torah Reading: Terumah (Exodus 25:1 - 27:19)
Candle Lighting Time: 5:12 PM

Shabbat ends: 6:14 PM

A Tale of Two Vessels


The One-Piece Menorah

This week’s parsha describes in vivid detail the construction of the portable Sanctuary in the desert. This structure, known as the Mishkan, also contained certain vessels which were an integral part of the Sanctuary. They were the instruments through which the objective of the Mishkan—the revelation of G‑d in this physical world—was realized.

One of the most interesting of these vessels was the seven branched, golden Menorah. The Menorah, which was kindled each and every day, was intended to illuminate the entire world with its G‑dly light.

One of the requirements of the Menorah was that it had to have seven branches adorned with ornamental cups, spheres, and flowers, and that all of its parts had to be made of one piece of gold. Even the decorative flowers could not be soldered on subsequent to the Menorah’s formation.

In the words of the Torah: “You should make a Menorah of pure gold. The Menorah should be made hammered (from a single piece of metal). Its base and its stem, its cups, spheres and flowers should all come from it, (Rashi: i.e., all of its parts must be hammered out of one piece of gold).

This task proved so difficult and elusive, even for Moses, that, as Our Sages explain, G‑d told him to throw the gold into the fire and the finished Menorah would emerge.

The Difference Between the Menorah and the Ark

Why was it so important for the Menorah to be made of one piece of gold? Furthermore, the Ark of the Covenant, arguably the holiest and most important component of the Mishkan, was made with two separate components of gold. In the beginning of this week’s parsha the Torah describes the creation of the Ark: “They should make an Ark of acacia wood… You should coat it with pure gold, coating it inside and out…” Rashi explains that the Ark wasn’t simply coated with a layer of gold. There were in fact three separate arks, the main wooden one, a slightly smaller gold one and a slightly larger gold one. The wooden ark was placed inside of the larger golden ark, and the smaller golden ark was placed in side of the wooden one, thus making one ark completely covered in gold. Why is it then that the Ark could be made of different pieces, with separate gold components, while the Menorah had to be made of one piece of gold, and as a result, its construction required Divine intervention?

The significance of our question is magnified when we reflect on the common spiritual symbolism of these two vessels.

Our Sages explain that both the Ark and the Menorah symbolize the Torah. The Ark is literally the vessel that houses the Tablets that contain the Ten Commandants, as well as the Torah that Moses wrote. Likewise, the Menorah is a symbol of the Torah because the Torah is Biblically likened to light.

Based on the above, the question becomes even more acute. Why are the menorah and the Ark, both symbols of Torah, so different in regard to the requirement of being constructed from a single piece? Moreover, logic would dictate that the Ark, the holier of the two vessels, should have stricter requirements for its construction. Yet, only the Menorah had this requirement that it be made of one piece of gold. Why?

It’s all Inside the Torah

The Menorah, as stated had seven branches. Each branch represented a different segment of the Jewish nation. Each branch also represented – and still does - a different approach to serving G‑d. It was crucial that the Menorah be made of one piece, to signify that we are a united people despite our diverse approaches.

More specifically, as it relates to Torah: The diverse approaches to understanding the Torah all contribute to the single goal of illuminating the world.

But that was not the extent of the one piece requirement. Even the decorative cups, spheres and flowers had to be an integral part of the Menorah and not attached after its initial construction. Why?

These decorations symbolize the way we interpret the Torah. Although G‑d gave us the Torah He did so intending that we interpret it and even go on to discover new ideas and meanings.

The Torah informs us that even these adornments to the Torah, i.e., our novel insights, must be part of one whole. We cannot decorate and embellish the Torah with ideas that come from the outside. Torah does not need secular knowledge to enhance our understanding and appreciation for it. Whatever tools we use to better understand Torah must come from the Torah itself.

So while we have the license and indeed the obligation to derive new ideas from the Torah and provide novel interpretations to it, the “one piece” imperative reminds us of an important caveat:


One’s novel insight cannot contradict accepted Torah knowledge. The Torah interpreter must play by the rules of interpretation as they were set forth by the Torah itself. Furthermore, the tools and the insights need not and ought not to come from “outside influences.” On the contrary, the Torah was given to illuminate every aspect of life, including the mundane and secular, but not the reverse. The Torah has all of the necessary parts to provide for its proper understanding and embellishment. What is not stated clearly in the Written Torah has been supplemented by the Oral Torah. And whenever there is some ambiguity as to what the Torah means, the Torah provides the tools to decipher its meaning and apply it to any of life’s situations.

Three Aspects of Torah

More specifically, it may be suggested, the decorative cups are representative of the teaching techniques that we employ in spreading Torah knowledge. As the Rebbe pointed out, the cups of the Menorah, according to Maimonides’ own illustration of them, pointed downwards. The cups, therefore, were not in the mode of receivers but rather that of givers.

The lesson here is that the methodologies for teaching are also contained in the Torah. While there is nothing wrong with using secular pedagogic techniques, they must not be at odds with the Torah’s approach to education.

The decorative spheres of the Menorah, Rashi states, resembled apples, which symbolize the sweetness of Torah study. One can discover the beauty and sweetness of the Torah by delving into it without having to add sweetness from the outside. Any artificial sweetener or added sugar is unnecessary and can even be hazardous to our healthy rapport with the Torah.

The flowers, the most decorative part of the Menorah, symbolize the novel insights that embellish the Torah text. What might appear to be a dry presentation of laws can through the “flower method” be transformed into an exciting excursion into the dynamics of the soul. These embellishments must also flow from the well of Torah itself.

The Three Levels of Torah

One may suggest that the three types of decorations parallel three of the four levels of Torah interpretation.


The cups, which are used to impart knowledge to the outside, symbolize p’shat, the straightforward teachings of the Torah. These are the most visible aspects of Torah knowledge and are easily taught.

The spheres, or apple-like ornaments, symbolize the level of remez (the approach that involves numerology and the like) which elicits a certain measure of the sweetness of Torah.

The flowers are the most decorative and beautiful part of the Menorah. They allude to the level of d’rush (the homiletical approach to Torah), which delves beneath the surface of the Torah to discover hidden messages and meanings.

The underlying message taught by the Menorah’s decorative elements is that all of these levels, even though they require human effort, are an integral part of Torah itself. Outside knowledge should not be superimposed on the Torah.

The Ark: The Fourth Level

There is a fourth level of Torah interpretation. It is the level of sod, the most secret and esoteric dimension of the Torah. This level is symbolized by the elusive Ark which was in the Holy of Holies and thus was inaccessible to virtually all people. Even prior to the destruction of the first Temple, the Ark was hidden in an underground chamber beneath the Temple Mount.

The Ark that symbolizes the teachings of Kabbalah cannot be accessed through Torah study alone. It must come from another source. This refers to Divine inspiration or receiving this knowledge from Divinely inspired masters. Indeed, the very term Kabalahh means “received.” It isn’t wisdom that was deduced from other Torah sources, but wisdom that was received directly from G‑d through the great kabalists of history like Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai,the Arizal and others. This definition of “outside” is diametrically opposite to the meaning of the same term as it was applied to the Menorah. There the “outside” was negated because Torah contains all the information that we need and does not have to be supplemented by outside sources of knowledge.

In the case of the Ark, by contrast, the outside refers to the transcendent source of Torah itself. Kabbalah, in fact, needs to be derived from the “Divine Outside.”

Thus the Ark was made of an inside layer of gold and outer layer of gold to symbolize that the outer dimension of Torah is rooted in a higher plane and must be informed by it.


License Now Issued to Reveal the Torah’s Innermost Teachings

We are now living on the cusp of the Messianic Age, the Final redemption, when the Ark and the knowledge it symbolizes will be fully revealed.

For centuries and millennia these teachings were kept secret because, among other reasons, there was a distinct danger that people would see the two layers of the Ark as a license to interpret the Kabbalah from the wrong “outside” influence. Instead of seeking the Divine Outside by reaching into the deepest recesses of their souls to understand these G‑dly teachings, they would apply their secular knowledge and mindset to kabbalah. Their ego-driven biases would superimpose themselves on these teachings and distort them.

However, we now stand at the threshold of the age of G‑dly revelation, about which Maimonides states at the end of his monumental work, the Mishneh Torah (the study cycle of which was completed by Jews world-wide this past week): “the world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the sea.” In this era, license was given for us to study and concentrate on the inner teachings of Torah, especially as they are illuminated in the teachings of Chassidus.

Moshiach Matters

The Baal Shem Tov teaches, "When you grasp the essence, you grasp [the object] in its entirety."

Therefore, even after G‑d causes the soul to descend and enclothe itself within a physical body, and even when [the world at large] is in a period of exile, the soul is not in exile.(From a Chasidic discourse of the Rebbe)