The Menorah: The Mystery and Daily service
Above picture: The painting depicts the two subterranean chambers beneath the surface of the Temple Mount, where the Ark of the Covenant and the Menorah are hidden. A group of kohanim are seen carrying the Menorah to its hiding place, while other kohanim are rolling back a massive stone which will seal off the chamber and protect the sacred vessel for future generations.
The Mystery of the Menorah
From the time of the destruction of the second Holy Temple there have been among the sages of Israel those who were convinced that the Menorah depicted on the Arch of Titus in Rome was not THE Menorah from the Holy Temple.
We know that the Menorah depicted on the Arch of Titus, after it was brought to Rome was placed in the Palace of Peace near where the arch was to be built. No doubt the artist who designed the arch based his depiction on the Menorah that was standing in the Palace of Peace.
There is great evidence in Jewish sources, however, dating back to the aftermath of the destruction of the Holy Temple, which suggests that while the menorah seen on the Arch of Titus may have been A Menorah taken from the Holy Temple, it wasn't THE Menorah. In other words, it wasn't the Menorah that was standing in the Kodesh Sanctuary at the time of its destruction, but a spare Menorah.
We are told in the book of Kings that King Solomon had eleven Menorahs made which stood in the Sanctuary. While we only know of one Menorah which stood in the Sanctuary of the second Holy Temple, we know for a certainty that there were a number of spare Menorahs on stand-by in case the Sanctuary Menorah became impure or needed repair.
Therefore, it is the opinion of many Torah sages that the Menorah taken to Rome and depicted on the Arch of Titus was one of the spare Menorahs kept in the Temple warehouse and not the active duty Menorah which would have been standing in the Sanctuary.
If that is the case, then what happened to the Sanctuary Menorah and why didn't the Romans take it to Rome? There are passages in the Talmud which testify that, as the Roman siege of Jerusalem sealed the fate of the city, the people of Jerusalem understood that destruction of the Holy Temple would inevitably follow. They therefore decided to place each of the sacred vessels in hiding.
Their plan was not unprecedented. King Josiah also hid vessels from the invading Babylonians thus saving them from destruction or removal by the Babylonian army when they entered Jerusalem and destroyed the first Holy Temple. Most famous of the vessels hidden by Josiah was the Ark of the Covenant. It was never returned to the Holy of Holies of the second Holy Temple, but according to an unbroken oral tradition it is still hidden under the Temple Mount and will be restored when the third Holy Temple is built.
According to many ancient source the Menorah likewise was hidden away in a chamber beneath the Temple Mount. When the Roman legions entered the Sanctuary and found it empty they were ordered to search for the missing vessels. They did succeed in uncovering a number of the spare vessels, but the original vessels which served in the Holy Temple were never discovered. Like the Ark of the Covenant, the Menorah is standing to this day somewhere just beneath its destined standing place in the Kodesh Sanctuary!
Displaying the Menorah to the Pilgrims
It was a custom that during each of the three pilgrimage festivals the kohanim would hold up the ninety three sacred service vessels for all the pilgrims to see. Included among the sacred vessels were the Table of the Showbread, the Golden Incense Altar and the Menorah, all three of which stood in the Kodesh Sanctuary. This would be the only occasion for non-kohanim to see with their own eyes these three vessels. The kohanim would warn the people not to come too close to the vessels lest they accidentally touch them and render them impure. But just in case they did, an identical spare vessel stood waiting to temporarily replace the impure vessel until it could once again be rendered pure.
The 11 Menorot of King Solomon
The Holy Temple that King Solomon built was very similar to the Tabernacle (משכן) in its basic layout, albeit on a much larger scale. One very significant difference, however, was the fact that Solomon added an additional ten Menorot, as well as an additional ten Tables of the Showbread, which stood in the Kodesh Sanctuary. Altogether there were eleven Menorot and eleven Tables of the Showbread. The Menorot stood along the southern side of the Sanctuary and the Tables of the Showbread stood along the northern side. In the middle stood the golden Incense Altar. Our sages teach us that the these additional vessels reflected a heightened level of consciousness and holiness that existed throughout Solomon's reign.
The Menorah: Separate Lamps
"And you shall make a menorah of pure gold. The menorah shall be made of hammered work; its base and its stem, its goblets, its knobs, and its flowers shall all be one piece with it. And six branches coming out of its sides: three menorah branches from its one side and three menorah branches from its second side. Three decorated goblets on one branch, a knob and a flower, and three decorated goblets on one branch, a knob and a flower; so for the six branches that come out of the menorah. And on the stem of the menorah shall be four decorated goblets, its knobs and its flowers. And a knob under the two branches from it, and a knob under the two branches from it, and a knob under the two branches from it; so for the six branches that come out of the menorah. Their knobs and their branches shall all be one piece with it; all of it shall be one hammered mass of pure gold." (Exodus 25:31-36)
These six verses describe the structure of the Menorah, and concludes, "all of it shall be one hammered mass of pure gold."
Exodus 25:37 then adds, "And you shall make its lamps seven, and he shall kindle its lamps [so that they] shed light toward its face."
From this we learn that the seven lamps which held the oil and the wicks were separate from the Menorah.
This is further stated in Chronicles II, 4:20: "And the menorah and its lamps to kindle them as is required, before the Devir, (parochet separating the Sanctuary from the Holy of Holies), of refined gold." Again, the Menorah and the seven lamps are referred to as distinct and separate entities.
We see this distinction a third time in the words of the prophet Zechariah, 4:2: "And he said to me, "What do you see?" And I said, "I saw, and behold there was a menorah all of gold, with its oil-bowl on top of it, and its seven lamps thereon; seven tubes each to the lamps that were on top of it."
According to the Rambam, each of the seven lamps consisted of a bowl into which 1/2 log (approx. 285 grams) of pure olive oil was poured and the ptil (wick) was placed, and a cover to protect the oil and to keep it clean. It would be opened when cleaning out and replenishing the oil, as was done each morning, and closed before kindling the wick.
Tending to the Menorah in the Daily Service
Immediately following the description of the Menorah (Exodus 25:31-37) Torah continues: "And its tongs and its snuffdishes shall be of pure gold." The Torah is referring to the implements used in the daily care of the Menorah. The daily Tamid service included two mitzvot: the cleaning of the Menorah lamps, and the kindling of the lamps. Known in Hebrew as hatava (הטבה), the cleaning and preparation of the seven lamps involved cleaning out each lamp, replenishing the oil and replacing the wick. A golden vessel which contained tongs and a brush was used for cleaning the lamps. A golden pitcher containing 3.5 log (2 liters) of oil was used by the kohen to fill up a small golden flask which held 1/2 log of oil, the precise amount required for each lamp. In this fashion the kohen would measure out equal amount of oil for all seven lamps. Once the kohen had completed preparing the lamps he would then perform the commandment of kindling the lamps.
Above picture: On the left is the golden pitcher which contains 3.5 log (2 liters) of pure olive oil. It was poured by the kohen into the smaller golden flask on the right, which contained .5 log of oil, the precise amount for each of the seven Menorah lamps. The inset shows the kohen preparing the lamps as part of the Daily Tamid service. He would step up on a three tiered "step ladder" to enable him to access each lamp. In the picture all three of the Menorah "accessories," the tongs and brush kit, the oil pitcher and the oil flask can be seen. Both vessels pictures are part of the Temple Institute collection, ready for use in the Holy Temple.
Above picture: In this painting the Kohen in the far distance toward the left can be seen tending to the Menorah.
Kinding the Menorah Lamps
The hatavah - the cleaning and replenishing of the oil lamps and the replacing of the wicks - was performed every morning in the Holy Temple. According to many of our sages, this was followed immediately by the kindling of the seven oil lamps, beginning with the western lamp in such a manner that all six of the Menorah lamps derive their fire from the western (seventh) lamp of the Menorah. Others opine that once the lamps were extinguished and prepared in the morning they then waited unlit throughout the day, with the exception of the western lamp, which did burn continually throughout the day. Only toward evening time were the remaining six lamps kindled by the western lamp.
Kinding the Menorah Lamps
We have learned that the source of fire for all seven of the Menorah lamps is the - נר המערבי - western lamp. But what happens if the western lamp itself is extinguished?
If the flame of the western lamp of the Menorah goes out, the kohen then removes the lamp, (prepared with oil and a fresh wick), and carries it out of the Sanctuary to the stone altar in the Temple Courtyard. He ascends the ramp up to the altar and ignites the lamp on the flame of the altar. He then returns the western lamp to its place on the Menorah and proceeds to light the remaining six lamps of the Menorah using the burning wick of the western lamp.
The Iron Menorah of the Hasmoneans
Upon liberating the Holy Temple from the Greeks, the Hasmonean kohanim entered the Temple Sanctuary to remove the idolatrous objects brought in by the Greeks and to purify the Sanctuary and its vessels. They discovered that the golden Menorah and the golden Incense Altar had both been stolen by the Greeks. They immediately located seven iron bars and with them fashioned a very simple but functional seven branched Menorah. It was this Menorah that they lit using the only cruse of pure olive oil that remained in the Holy Temple.
But haven't we learned that the Menorah needs to be made from a single piece of pure gold? And aren't the flowers, knobs and bowls all necessary details of its design?
Halachah (Jewish law) tells us that if gold can't be found, then another metal can be used to make the Menorah. Furthermore, the flowers, knobs and bowls are only essential if the Menorah is made out of gold. These details don't need to be included in a Menorah made out of iron!
The Hasmoneans rightfully felt the need to renew the Temple service without delay, and therefore made do with the materials at hand. Some of our sages even suggest that they used their swords to form the seven branches! An ancient Midrash even states that the eight days of Chanukah commemorate the eight iron bars that the Hasmoneans discovered in the Holy Temple, (seven branches and one base)!
In any case, the lesson to be learned from the Hasmoneans is that the renewal of the Divine service is urgent and all proper measure should be taken in order to expedite its speedy renewal.
As time passed and conditions improved, the Hasmoneans were able to replace the iron Menorah with a silver one. Eventually the silver Menorah was itself replace by a Menorah of pure gold, in precise accordance with the description in Torah.
"And They Kindled the Lamps in Your Holy Courtyard"
The "Al hanissim" prayer that we say every day of Chanukah includes these words: "You did for your people a great salvation on this day, and afterwards your children came to Your Holy Sanctuary and removed [the idolatry placed there by the Greeks] in Your Sanctuary and purified Your Holy Temple and kindled the lamps in Your holy courtyards..."
We know that the Menorah stood in the Sanctuary and not in the courtyard. And we know that the Maccabees, upon discovering that the golden Menorah had been pillaged by the Greeks, had quickly replaced the golden Menorah with a temporary Menorah made of iron and placed it in the Sanctuary. Why then, were the Menorah lamps being kindled in the courtyards?
As we know, the war against the Greek Hellenists was led by the kohen gadol (high priest) Mattitiyahu and his seven sons, and that the kohanim were in the vanguard of the battle to recapture the Holy Temple and reestablish Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel. Therefore, as a result of the combat, most of the kohanim had been rendered impure to serve inside the Sanctuary. Once that Sanctuary had been cleared of the Greek idolatry and then purified, only the few kohanim who had stayed far from the battle lines and had maintained their ritual purity were able to serve inside the Sanctuary.
How did they solve the dilemma of so many kohanim who dearly wanted to perform the commandment of kindling the Menorah lamps but were not able to enter the Sanctuary and approach the Menorah?
As we know, the seven lamps which held the oil and the wick were removable from the body of the Menorah. The kohanim who had remained pure would prepare the oil and wicks inside the Sanctuary and then carry them out to the courtyard where impure kohanim were waiting holding torches. In this way the impure kohanim could kindle the lamps without touching them and the pure kohanim could then carry the lamps back into the Sanctuary and replace them upon the Menorah! (This was done until the impure kohanim could again be purified.)
Dry Run: Lighting the Temple Menorah
On the seventh night of Chanukah, 5774, (2013)(and Rosh Chodesh Tevet), the Temple Institute conducted a practice run of the kindling of the seven branched Menorah that stands in the Holy Temple. The event was actually the climax of a week-long operation that had been meticulously planned in advance. Several select olive oil producers from Judea and Samaria were chosen to harvest and process their olives according to the specific halachot (laws) regarding the production of the pure olive oil for the Temple Menorah. On Tuesday evening the producers gathered together at the Zion Gate entry into Jerusalem's old city. From there they marched into the old city's Jewish Quarter, to the Menorah Square, where the golden Menorah created by the Temple Institute stands, carrying jars containing their specially produced olive oil.
Rabbi Yisrael Ariel, founder of the Temple Institute, oversaw the lighting ceremony, explaining in detail the halachot of preparing and kindling the seven Menorah lamps. The Menorah was kindled by the kohen Rabbi Eliezer Goldschmidt, dressed in priestly garments. It should be noted that the Menorah that was kindled was not the golden Menorah created by the Temple Institute and ready for use in the Holy Temple. That Menorah can only be kindled in its properly designated place inside the Holy Temple. A second Menorah, made specially for the evening's undertaking was used.
The organizers of the event previously had sent out invitations to the Minister of Religious Services and the mayor of Jerusalem to join in the practice run, asking for their authorization to conduct the lighting ceremony on the Temple Mount, in the precise location where the Menorah is intended to stand. They noted that the entire ceremony could take place with out harming any existing structure on the Temple Mount. The invitations went unanswered.
This rehearsal was yet another important step toward the rebuilding of the Holy Temple and a loud and clear expression of the people of Israel's burning desire to perform the daily commandment of kindling the Temple Menorah and renewing the Divine service.