The Holy Temple was central to the spiritual life of the Jewish people. Three times a year – on Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot – all Jews went to Jerusalem to celebrate the holidays. Imagine the feeling of being together with every Jewish family in the world to celebrate the Passover seder in Jerusalem!
The Jewish nation gathered there, together as one, to deepen both their personal and national sense of connectedness to God. It was a place of concentrated spiritual power and electrifying inspiration.
A centerpiece of the Temple was the Menorah. Lit daily, it was:
- 7 branches
- made of one solid piece of gold
- ornate in design and stunning to behold
- topped on each branch by an oil cup to fuel the flames
Long Ago In A Land Far, Far Away
Before the advent of the light bulb, buildings were illuminated by the natural light of the sun. For this reason, windows were designed to be narrower on the outer side of the wall and wider on the inside. This design served as a type of funnel that captured the rays of the sun and dispersed the light inside the building.
Curiously, the windows in the Temple had the opposite design. They were narrow on the inside and wide on the outside. Why?
The light of the Menorah represents Torah wisdom. The seemingly backward design of the windows signified that this wisdom was to radiate out to the entire world. More than the Temple needed the light of the sun, the world needed the enlightening wisdom of the Torah.
Indiana Jones and the Two Torahs
Another prominent item in the Temple represented the Torah even more clearly than the Menorah. The Ark, as in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” contained:
- the tablets of the Ten Commandments, and
- >the very first Torah scroll, written by Moses himself
So if the Ark contained the Torah, how did the Menorah also represent Torah?
Here’s a very important, little-known fact: The Torah actually has two parts.
One part is a world famous bestseller: The Written Torah, commonly called the Five Books of Moses, and known to mankind as the Bible. This text is written on every Torah scroll.
Part two of the Torah is known as the "Oral Torah." At Mount Sinai, the Jews not only got the written part, but also the oral part. As its name suggests, the Oral Torah was not written down. Its contents were studied, memorized and carefully transmitted directly from teacher to student.
What's An Oral Torah?
Taken on its own, the Written Torah is pretty tough to understand, and can even be misleading if you don't have the accompanying explanation of the Oral Torah. There is a close symbiotic relationship between the Written and Oral Torah. For example:
The Written Torah says "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." It’s reasonable to conclude that if you break my arm, then I (or the courts) can break your arm.
According to the Oral Torah, not at all. “An eye for an eye” is not applied literally. In Jewish law, if you injure me, you might have to pay my medical expenses or subsidize my loss of income. But you will never be injured in return.
Imagine the possible mistakes in knowing just the Written Torah!
Which brings us back to the Menorah, the Ark and those funny Temple windows. Beautiful lights shone from the Menorah because it is the Oral Torah that liberates the meaning and the wisdom contained in the Written Torah. Meanwhile, the tablets and the Torah scroll were kept in a closed Ark – because without the benefit of the Oral Torah, the Bible is actually a closed book!
The windows of the Temple were backward to signify that more than the Temple needed the light of the sun, an often darkened world needs the light of Torah.
Adapted from "Chanukah - Eight Nights of Light, Eight Gifts for the Soul," by Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf