Posted on March 23, 2011
by Joshua Rabin
Much of the world’s recognition of very cultures, religions and nations have become recognize by various national symbols, such as the bald eagle for the United States or the maple leaf for Canada. The Jewish people, as well, have become recognized by many symbols throughout our tradition. The Magen David, for example, has become the center of the flag of Eretz Yisrael, thus becoming a worldwide symbol of the Jewish people. Symbols represent a glimpse into a people’s culture, as a way of seeing something intensely important to that group, for often historical, sociological, and even spiritual reasons.
We have often spoken of the Jewish people being a symbol, an “Or Lagoyim,” a light unto the nations, as the prophet Yishayahu described it. As we observe mitzvot, our sense of commitment shows itself brightly to all peoples. In the Conservative movement’s treatise Emet Ve-Emunah, the following is written: “For the modern traditional Jew, the doctrine of the election and covenant of Israel offers a purpose for Jewish existence which transcends narrow self-interest.It obligates us to build a just and compassionate society throughout the world and especially in the land of Israel, where we may teach by both personal and collective example what it means to be a covenant people, a light to the nations” (Emet Ve-Emunah). Each Jew is expected to be a “dugma,” to be an example to all peoples, through emphasizing our values and traditions, and thus displaying ourselves, brightly and fervently. The personal symbol of the observance of mitzvot shows itself physically through one of our nation’s most recognized symbols; the m’norah.
This week’s parsha of Beha’alotecha presents God commanding Moshe instructions regarding what has become one our most familiar symbols of the Jewish people. It says in the parsha that, “The Lord spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to Aharon and say to him, “When you mount the lamps [of the m'norah], let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lampstand.” Aharon did so; he mounted the lamps at the front of the lampstand, as the Lord had commanded Moshe.” (B’midbar 8:1-3).
In the description of the Tent of Meeting, given throughout the Torah, we see that the m’norah is given a great deal of description and emphasis. Our Etz Hayim Chumash asks why this is so. We later see an interpretation from B’midbar Rabbah that, “As I shined a light on Israel, making them conspicuous among the nations, let them shine a light on Me” (B’midbar Rabbah 15:5). The m’norah, itself, is a physical display of that burning light; a symbol of our commitment, and of our radiance to the world through the observance of mitzvot. Its emphasis comes from the magnitude of the symbol, for it reflects a covenant of our entire people. Through our observance of Jewish halacha, of Jewish law, we brightly show our commitment to our people, just as the m’norah showed the Israelite nation’s covenant with God. Each and every day we can continue that bright display of our commitment and dedication to our people. Shabbat Shalom!