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The Many Branches of Our Inner Menorah: B’haalot’cha

B’haalot’cha: Numbers 8:1-12:16

The Eternal spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and say to him, “When you kindle the lamps, toward the face of the Menorah shall the seven lamps cast light.” Aaron did so… This is the workmanship of the Menorah; hammered out of gold, from its base to its flower it is hammered out; according to the vision that the Eternal had shown Moses, so was the Menorah made. [Num. 8:1-4]

The beginning of this week’s Torah reading brings us to the final preparations for the use of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. The seven-branched Menorah which stood at the entrance of the traveling structure is, to this day, one of the most universally recognized symbols of Judaism. At inception, it was meant to recall the scene of the burning bush, a spiritual image of the ever-present Light of God. In early centuries, it was associated with Aaron and the priestly caste of his descendants. Later on, the Menorah became a symbol of victory when the Maccabees rededicated the Temple from Greek pagan worship by re-kindling it. Then, a symbol of Jewish defeat when it was carried off to Rome in 70 C.E. by Titus and his victorious armies. Today, the Menorah is the seal of the State of Israel and a giant replica stands at the entrance to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem.

In between Rome and Jerusalem nearly 2000 years later, the symbol of the Menorah continued to ignite the imagination of many of our sages; but none more powerfully than that of the Jewish mystics. With its three branches left and right and its central pillar, its twenty-two gold-hammered flowers, parallels were drawn between the Menorah and the kabbalistic Tree of Life. Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572), one of the greatest kabbalists that ever lived, taught — well ahead of his time — that the six branches on both sides of the Menorah represented the lights of the multiple scientific and academic disciplines available to mankind, while the center stalk stood for the light of Torah, the light of spiritual endeavor. He insisted that secular and spiritual pursuits were not rivals, but rather not only complemented each other — as they each address a unique set of human concerns and questions — but also shed light on one another.

Just as this is true when it comes to our different modalities of learning, Rabbi Luria’s teaching brings home the notion that we, ourselves, are a seven-branched Menorah; composite beings made of multiple intelligences. To name but a few of our many inner branches: all of us possess beyond our spiritual intelligence, a certain degree of moral, emotional, relational, creative, aesthetic, and kinesthetic intelligences. What is important to realize is that, for each individual, different branches reach different heights. Our spiritual development might have led us to some of the highest peak experiences, but our sitting in a cave to meditate for so many years left us poorly equipped when it comes to our relational and emotional intelligences. I could excel as a CEO of a fortune 500 company when it comes to relational and creative intelligences, but perform devastatingly poorly when it comes to moral intelligence and end up in jail.

A spiritual path for the 21st century is a path that includes all of the branches of our inner Menorah. It is a path that integrates as many aspects of the human make-up in an evolutionary spiral of growth. We owe it to ourselves and to our children to take into account the multifaceted nature of our being when it comes to creating curriculums for learning and pathways for personal development. We need not reach the highest levels of development for each branch of intelligence, yet none should be left to atrophy. Only by caring for the whole Menorah can we become more complete and integrated beings. These are, after all, the multi branches of our inner burning bush, the ways through which the Light of God shines in the world as us.