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Can I have some basic information concerning the Temple Menorah?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

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– The Menorah was hewn out of a block of pure gold and weighed approximately 150 pounds. It had seven branches; a middle branch and three branches extending from each side.1 According to Maimonides2 and the Biblical commentator Rashi3, the side-branches extended from the middle-branch in a straight, diagonal line, not in a semi-circular arc as most drawings would have one believe. The Menorah was slightly less than five feet tall, and a stone stepping stool with three steps was positioned at its base. It stood in the sanctuary of the Temple beside the southern wall, opposite the shulchan, the Table which held the twelve show-breads.

– The three wicks on each side curved inwards so that their flames faced the middle branch. Miraculously, the flame of the middle branch4 never went out. Every day a half a log (approx. six ounces) of olive oil was placed in each of the seven cups of the Menorah – enough oil to bun throughout even the longest winter nights – and when it came time to kindle the Menorah on the following day the middle candle was still burning, and it provided fire to light the remaining six which had already extinguished.

– The olive oil used for the Menorah had to be ultra pure. The olives were gently pressed – not crushed – until the first drop emerged. All oils which subsequently were extracted from the olive, either through pressing or through crushing, were unacceptable for the Menorah. Instead they were used for the Temple meal-offerings.

– The wicks of the Menorah were produced from the worn out turbans and cloaks of the priestly vestments. 

– The Menorah was cleaned and prepared for kindling (i.e. the old wick was removed and a new one inserted in each branch) in the morning, and it was actually kindled in the afternoon.5 While the preparation for the kindling had to be done exclusively by a Kohen, Halachacally any Jew was permitted to light it.6 Theoretically, if a non-Kohen was to light the Menorah, it would have to be transported out of the sanctuary – where only a Kohen was allowed to enter – kindled, and then returned to its place.7  

Footnotes

  • 1. Exodus 25:31-40
  • 2. As illustrated in his drawings of the Menorah.
  • 3. Exodus 25:32
  • 4. There is a difference of opinion amongst the Sages exactly which (way the Menorah was positioned, and therefore which) one of the branches was the miraculous one. Others maintain that it was the second branch closest to the door of the sanctuary, and yet others hold that it was the westernmost branch, closest to the Holy of Holies. (See for example Talmud tractate Menachot 98b, Rashi "Ner Maravi" in Talmud tractate Megillah 21b, and Maimonides laws of Beit Habechira 3:7)
  • 5. Maimonides (as well as the Zohar) is of the opinion that the Menorah was kindled twice daily – once in the morning and once again in the afternoon. (Maimonides laws of Temidin and Musafin 3:10-11).
  • 6. Maimonides laws of Biat Hamikdash 9:8
  • 7. I am not familiar with a source that records this ever actually happened.

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Maimonides
Moses son of Maimon, born in Spain in 1135, died in Egypt in 1204. Noted philosopher and authority on Jewish law. Also was an accomplished physician and was the personal doctor for members of the Egyptian royalty. Interred in Tiberius, Israel.
Rashi
Acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105). Legendary French scholar who authored the fundemental and widely accepted "Rashi commentary" on the entire Bible and Talmud.
Menorah
Candelabra. Usually a reference to the nine-branched candelabra kindled on the holiday of Chanukah.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.