By Rav Yaakov Hillel
Rosh Yeshiva Ahavat Shalom
“And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, speak to Aharon and say to him, when you light the lamps, the seven lamps will shine toward the center of the Menorah” (Bamidbar 8:1-2).
In the Sanctuary, and later in the Bet HaMikdash, the Menorah was placed between north and south, with all wicks on both sides tilted toward the central branch. The wick of the central lamp was tilted toward the Holy of Holies in the west (Rambam, Hilchot Bet HaBehirah 3:8,12).
Our Sages teach that the Menorah represents Torah. “Rabbi Yitzhak said, [when facing the Bet HaMikdash to pray,] one who wishes to become wise should tilt himself slightly toward the south. [So too, one who wishes] to become wealthy should tilt himself slightly toward the north. This is symbolized by the Menorah, [which represents the wisdom of Torah,] which stood to the south of the Table, and the Table, [which represents wealth and success,] which stood to the north of the Menorah” (Baba Batra 25b).
The central lamp was called “the Western Lamp,” because it was the only one of the seven flames that faced west (Shabbat 22b; see Rashi). Another reason is that maarav, literally “west,” can also be translated as “mixing.” The lights of all the other six lamps were combined or “mixed” together in the central lamp. Let us try to understand in what sense the Torah is comparable to the six lamps which were lit before Hashem, with all six directed toward the seventh central lamp.
The six branches of the Menorah allude to the Six Orders of the Mishnah, the body of halachah which we received from Sinai. This is the revealed portion of the Torah. The Western Lamp symbolizes the Torah’s hidden inner meaning. These secrets of the Torah, known as the wisdom of Kabbalah, are the ultimate truths of Torah.
“The seven lamps will shine toward the center of the Menorah.” When the revealed Torah of the Six Orders of the Mishnah, symbolic of the six branches, is directed toward the central branch, symbolic of the hidden secrets of the Torah, they are a brilliant, perfect, all-encompassing light. The halachot of the revealed Torah will shine together with the light of Kabbalah, and the Kabbalah will be illuminated by the light and the insight of the revealed Torah (see Rabbi Hayyim Vital’s Introduction to Etz Hayyim).
Seven is Perfection
The Menorah in the Sanctuary, and later in the Bet Hamikdash, had a total of seven branches. On an esoteric level, the number seven symbolizes spiritual perfection. The number six symbolizes physical reality which is openly revealed to us. This is because everything in the physical world has six dimensions: east, west, north, south, up, and down. The number seven, on the other hand, alludes to the hidden inner power which is the essence of every entity. The seventh entity encompasses all six dimensions and unifies them into one complete system. This is why the Menorah had six branches, three on either side, with the flames facing the Western Lamp in the center, forming one complete whole.
The seven lamps correspond to the seven days of the week. The six weekdays should all be directed towards the sanctity of Shabbat, the center which unites them into a perfect whole. The Arizal compares the six branches of the Menorah built around one central branch to the six days of the week, which revolve around Shabbat. Our Sages teach that the three days before Shabbat (Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday) are the prelude to Shabbat, and the three days following Shabbat (Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday) are subsequent to Shabbat. Shabbat is in the center, with the other days grouped around it. The Menorah too has three branches on either side of a central branch. The single central branch is the real source of the Menorah’s light. The other six lamps incline towards it to draw from the power of its inner light, just as Shabbat is the source of blessing for the days preceding and following it (see Shaar HaKavanot, beginning of p. 67a).
The same is true of other entities based on the number seven. For example, a Shemitah cycle consists of six years, followed by the sanctified seventh year. Seven Shemittah cycles conclude with Yovel, the Jubilee Year, which has its own special sanctity. This also explains why our ancestors needed seven full weeks of preparation prior to receiving the Torah. Perfect service of G-d can only be the result of profound, all-inclusive preparation, symbolized by the number seven, the source of all perfection.
Six Followed by Seven
With this in mind, we can understand the profound meaning of our Sages’ words, “The physical world will exist for six thousand years, and the seventh thousand year will be a period of destruction [of the physical world, which will then transcend to spirituality]” (Rosh HaShannah 31a). The natural, physical world will exist for six thousand years. The seventh thousand refers to the world of spirituality which will shed its material nature. It is called haruv, destroyed, because physicality will be negated in this world.
The six days of the week, and the six thousand years of the world’s existence, are all directed toward spirituality, symbolized by seven, which is the source of perfection and rectification.
The Vilna Gaon explains the Zohar’s words, “The Redemption will come about through the study of Kabbalah.” The last years of the existence of the physical world are an appropriate time to prepare for the World to Come, which corresponds to the innermost secrets of the Torah. This is why our main focus in learning in this era should be Kabbalah. (Obviously, this refers only to Torah scholars of the highest caliber in both wisdom and integrity.) We find a similar idea in the Arizal’s teaching that on weekdays, we should concentrate mainly on the study of the revealed Torah, and on Shabbat we should concentrate mainly on the study of the hidden wisdom of Torah (Shaar HaPessukim, Tehillim 100).
Bringing Together the Revealed and Hidden Torah
With this in mind, we can understand the wording of the verse: “When you light the lamps, the seven lamps will shine toward the center of the Menorah.”
One who learns the Six Orders of the Mishnah – the entire body of the revealed Torah – should direct his learning “toward the center of the Menorah,” with the intent to reach the Torah’s hidden inner truths. In this way, he will combine the revealed and hidden aspects of Torah into one whole, achieving a complete, perfect understanding of Torah. Rabbi Hayyim Vital relates that his teacher, the Arizal, would explain every Talmudic topic he learned in six original ways never before expounded by earlier scholars, in keeping with the revealed Torah. Then he would present a seventh original explanation based on Kabbalistic teachings (Shaar HaMitzvot, Parashat V’et’hanan, beginning of p. 33b). As we see, the Arizal would always first explain the topic according to the revealed Torah, and only afterwards, according to the hidden Torah. This is because the secrets of Kabbalah are only uncovered through knowledge of the revealed Torah. Six explanations in the revealed Torah, concluding with a seventh in the hidden secrets of Torah, produced complete, perfect understanding of the topic.
The Zohar teaches that “the Rabbis of the Mishnah and the Amoraim based their entire Talmud upon the secrets of the Torah” (Zohar, Pinhas 244b). In other words, even though their teachings were expressed in the terminology of the revealed Torah, they phrased their statements so that their words could be understood on a more sublime level as well, in accordance with the hidden wisdom of the Torah. By so doing, they illuminated and combined all seven lamps into one perfect light. Rabbi Menahem Azariah of Pano writes that in every instance where the Tannaim and Amoraim had a conflict of opinion for reasons based on their interpretation of the revealed Torah, they simultaneously discussed reasons for their individual opinions based on Kabbalistic sources. In the Talmud, only the revealed reasons were mentioned; the hidden reasons were not made known to us (Maamar Meah Kesita, Nun-alef).
In a later era, the great halachic authority Rabbi Hayyim Halberstam, known by the title of his work Divre Hayyim, would receive many halachic inquiries from the great Torah scholars of his generation. When the query was from a rabbi who was also known to be well-versed in Kabbalah, the Divre Hayyim would make a special effort to show that his halachic reasoning was accurate in keeping with Kabbalistic teachings as well.
It is interesting to note that most of the great later halachic authorities whose rulings are accepted as halachah, such as the Hida, the Ben Ish Hai, the Vilna Gaon, the Hatam Sofer and others, were great in Kabbalah as well as in the revealed Torah. Perhaps it is for this reason that the halachah is in keeping with their rulings, for they were able to combine their knowledge in both fields of Torah, unifying them into one perfect whole.
This is relevant not only to those who are knowledgeable in the hidden secrets of the Torah, but to anyone who learns Torah. Even those who have not yet learned Kabbalah can direct their Torah learning towards its inner and deeper meaning. The Vilna Gaon writes of one who learns Torah in his youth purely for its own sake, without ulterior motives. Later in life, when he will eventually merit to learn Kabbalah, he will discover that all the interpretations and explanations he developed in his earlier years of learning will be found consistent with Kabbalistic teachings (Commentary on Mishle 5:18). As we see, the words “the seven lamps will shine toward the center of the Menorah” also refer to this lower level. Therefore, one should have the intent to learn Torah with no ulterior motives, purely for its own sake, so that he will merit to have his understanding of the revealed Torah be accurate even in keeping with the hidden meaning of Torah.
Lower Levels of Leadership
The continuation of the parashah describes the craving of the lower elements of the nation for real meat, instead of the manna which was miraculously provided for them every day (Bamidbar 11:1-6). When this happened, Moshe was overcome by a sense of helplessness. He turned to Hashem, saying, “I alone cannot carry this entire nation, for it is too heavy for me. And if this is how You deal with me, then kill me now, if I have found favor in Your eyes, and let me not see my evil” (14-15). He felt that he was incapable of bearing the burden of the nation single-handed. Hashem responded to Moshe’s pleas by telling him to assemble seventy Elders who would assist him in guiding and teaching the people, so that the burden would not be his alone. Hashem would impart some of Moshe’s Divine spirit of prophecy to these Elders, enabling them to help him (16-17).
The number seventy, a multiple of the number seven, is once again significant. As we have explained, seven alludes to Torah as a perfect whole, combining both its revealed and hidden aspects. Hashem would bestow upon the Elders some of the spirit of Moshe, who also contained within him the entire Torah. Our Sages say that Moshe’s soul was equivalent to all the six hundred thousand souls of the Jewish nation, corresponding to the six branches of the Menorah (Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:64; Mechilta Yitro 1). Moshe himself, the source of these six hundred thousand souls, was a complete entity on his own, corresponding to the all-inclusive seventh Western Lamp of the Menorah.
The bestowing of Moshe’s spirit upon the Elders was actually a comedown. When Moshe alone led the people, it had been leadership through prophecy, at a most lofty spiritual, supra-natural level. Now that the Elders joined him, taking away some of his spiritual power, the level dropped to leadership by the wisdom of the Sages. This was a more revealed, natural level of leadership through the authority of halachah on its own, without the power of the hidden Torah behind it.
Let us understand what this means. Moshe’s leadership through prophecy was in keeping with the hidden secrets of Torah, akin to the Western Lamp. It was a reflection of the World to Come, on a more elevated level than natural leadership. With the appointment of the seventy Elders, it became leadership in keeping with the Six Orders of the Mishnah, which is natural in essence, only illuminated in a general sense by the light of the hidden Torah. The hidden Torah shines through the “garment” of the Six Orders of the Mishnah, as we explained earlier concerning the Arizal.
Moshe Rabbenu’s exclusive leadership of the people was truly supra-natural. Otherwise, how could a single individual possibly bear the burden of an entire nation on his shoulders, seemingly unaided? As long as Moshe carried this weight with supreme self-sacrifice, putting all his trust in the Al-mighty Who gave him the strength to perform this enormous undertaking, he merited great Divine assistance beyond the natural order. When he began to doubt his own abilities, and questioned his capacity to handle this enormous burden alone, the Divine assistance which had allowed him to surpass natural limitations was withdrawn. Now, since he did not trust completely in Hashem, he felt that it was entirely up to him. As a result, he really was no longer capable of doing it on his own, and it was then that Hashem told him to assemble seventy Elders to help him – a comedown indeed.
The Natural Viewpoint
Another topic discussed in this parashah is the departure of Moshe’s father-in-law Yitro from the Jews’ camp in the desert in order to return to his native Midyan (Bamidbar 10:29-34). We may say that it is mentioned because of its connection to a similar incident in Parashat Yitro.
At that time, Yitro arrived at the desert camp of the Israelites and saw that literally from morning to night, his son-in-law Moshe was surrounded by people who had come to consult him and learn from him. He said, “You will surely wear yourself out, both you and the entire nation who are with you, for this is too difficult for you to handle on your own. You will not be able to do it alone” (Shmot 18:19). He advised Moshe to lighten his burden by appointing leaders of thousands and leaders of hundreds to assist him with his responsibilities, and Moshe followed his advice (18:19-26).
The verse following the account of Moshe’s appointment of suitable assistants is most revealing. Immediately after he did what his father-in-law had suggested, the Torah tells us, “And Moshe dispatched his father-in-law, and he returned to his land” (18:27).
Yitro was motivated by a sincere desire to help, and he had given good advice, which Moshe followed. Why did Moshe hurry his father-in-law out of the camp as soon as the deed was done?
It was because the subsequent appointment of the leaders of the thousands and hundreds marked a spiritual descent in the level of the entire nation. Moshe had led the people with self-sacrificing dedication beyond normal human capabilities, trusting in Hashem to give him the strength he needed for this task. His exceptional devotion was not superfluous; it was significant and important. It uplifted the entire nation to a level where they all had personal contact and derived personal benefit from Moshe himself. It is true that he was indeed wearing himself out, as his father-in-law feared, but in the words of our Sages, “If you want to live, kill yourself while you’re still alive” (Taanit 32a). They also tell us, “How do we know that Torah endures only in one who kills himself over it? From what it says, ‘This is the Torah. A man who dies in the tent,'” a reference to the tents of Torah study (Bamidbar 19:14, Berachot 63b).
Moshe’s selfless dedication had merited exceptional, supra-natural Divine assistance and success for all Israel. Then Yitro came along and viewed the situation from a superficial, mundane, and academic standpoint, saying that the whole system was illogical, impractical, and doomed to collapse. When Moshe’s own attitude was affected by Yitro’s opinion, the special Divine assistance formerly granted to Moshe left him; the burden indeed became too much for him to bear alone. Working on his own now, in a natural rather than miraculous manner, he really did need a staff of Elders to assist him with the job he had previously done unaided and, since Torah is supra-natural, could have carried on until the age of one hundred twenty.
When this happened, Moshe graciously accepted his father-in-law’s suggestion, but then promptly sent him on his way and out of the camp. The life of the Jewish nation in the desert involved many manifestations of miraculous Divine assistance. He wanted Yitro to leave before he had time to analyze any of these other phenomena by natural, logical criteria and offer his opinion and advice on those issues too, causing the Divine assistance to depart from them as well.
Directing Our Weekdays to Shabbat
The number six is symbolic of the revealed Torah and the natural order. We have six weekdays, Six Orders of the Mishnah, and six branches on the Menorah. The number seven symbolizes a higher level beyond natural confines, including the hidden Torah, the greater sanctity of Shabbat, and the central lamp on the Menorah. Our nation’s task is to bring about the rectification of the world by natural means, as symbolized by the six weekdays. However, all our actions should be directed by the sanctity and spirituality of Shabbat, the center of the week and the source of blessing which illuminates the weekdays before and after. The same is true of our learning. We should exert ourselves in the study of the revealed Torah, enlightening and directing it with the light of the hidden inner meaning of Torah. With Hashem’s help, this great light, reminiscent of the light of the seven lamps of the Menorah, will illuminate our path and bring us to eternal life, granting us supra-natural strength to bear our burdens for the ultimate benefit of our nation.