Beha’alotcha: The Golden Menorah

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and say to him, “When you mount the lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lampstand.” Aaron did so; he mounted the lamps at the front of the lampstand, as the Lord had commanded Moses. (B’midbar 8:1-3)

Let the lamps glimmer,
dissipating darkness. Force
cannot quell spirit.

Dedicated to victims of terror, worldwide.

In a commentary on Beha’alotcha,, Deborah Miller notes, “Light and wisdom are inextricably tied. Wisdom is often depicted in Christianity and Buddhism as a lamp. Light dispels darkness and ignorance, helping the lost find their way…” However, she adds that light in Jewish thought, is a metaphor for Torah. As it says in Proverbs (6:23) “For mitzvah is a lamp (candle) and Torah is light.” And in Midrash Eichah Rabbbah we find God lamenting, “”Would that they had abandoned me but observed my Torah. From their involvement in it, the light within it would have returned them to goodness.”
Miller notes that during the periods of both Temples, the menorah retained the same function as during the days of the Tabernacle, an ever-present reminder of God’s constant presence among them. She says, “It not only symbolized the wisdom of Torah, but of the nation itself; one that was expected to become a “light that would illuminate the way for the nations.” (Isaiah 60:3).

The commentary in the Hertz Chumash cites the Talmud: Israel said before God: ‘Lord of the Universe, You commanded us to illumine before You; are You not the Lord of the world, and with Whom light dwells?’ ‘Not that I require your light’ was the Divine reply, ‘but that you may perpetuate the light that I conferred on you as an example to the nations of the world.’ Rabbi Hertz* adds that the menorah is one of the favourite symbols of Judaism. Through its association with Chanukah, it has come to symbolise spiritual conquest that is realised by God’s spirit. He notes that the Haftarah of Beha’alotcha is the same as for Shabbat Chanukah, in which the prophet Zechariah says, “Not by might and not by power, but by My spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.” Rabbi Hertz continues that Israel, as God’s servant, is mandated to carry out God’s work without violence. He quotes Isaiah who describes God’s ideal servant, who will be soft-spoken and self-effacing, yet his spiritual influence will spread throughout the world: “He shall not cry out and nor raise his voice, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed he shall not break, and the dimly burning wick he shall not quench.” (Isaiah 42 2-3). Later in the chapter, Isaiah describes a covenant of peace among the peoples and the image is of a light, shining. So Rabbi Hertz notes “The image employed by Isaiah to describe Israel’s mission is the gentle agency of light, with its irresistible illumination of the surrounding darkness” and he concludes by quoting Richard G Moulton** “This is among the loftiest conceptions of all human thought. How new an idea it was, is measured by the length of time it has taken before the idea began slowly to make its way that force cannot conquer spirit.”

*Rabbi Joseph Herman Hertz (1872 – 1946) was a Jewish Hungarian-born rabbi and Bible scholar, who was the Chief Rabbi of the UK from 1913 until his death in 1946, in a period encompassing both world wars and the Holocaust.
Born in Rebrín/Rebrény, Kingdom of Hungary (presently part of the village of Zemplínska Široká, Slovak Republic), he emigrated to New York City in 1884 and was educated at New York City College (BA), Columbia University (PhD) and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (Rabbi, 1894, the Seminary’s first graduate). His first ministerial post was at Syracuse, New York.
In 1898, he moved to South Africa and remained there until 1911, despite attempts by President Paul Kruger in 1899 to expel him for his pro-British sympathies and for advocating the removal of religious disabilities of Jews and Catholics in South Africa. He was Professor of Philosophy at Transvaal University College (later known as the University of the Witwatersrand), 1906-8.
In 1911, he returned to New York to the Orach Chayim Congregation and two years later was appointed Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Empire, which post he held until his death. His period in office was marked by many arguments with a wide variety of people, mainly within the Jewish community (he was described in the Dictionary of National Biography as a “combative Conservative”).
Despite his title, he was not universally recognised as the final rabbinical authority, even in Britain. While he was Chief Rabbi of the group of Synagogues known as the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Empire, led by the United Synagogue, some new immigrants who had arrived since the 1880s regarded it as not orthodox enough. Rabbi Hertz tried both persuasion and such force as he could muster to influence them; he added to his credibility among these immigrants by persuading Rabbi Yehezkel Abramsky to become head of the London Beth Din.
Rabbi Hertz antagonised others by his strong support for Zionism in the 1920s and 1930s, when many prominent Jews were against it, fearing that it would lead to accusations against the Jewish community of divided loyalty. He was strongly opposed to Reform and Liberal Judaism, though he did not allow this to create personal animosities, and had no objection in principle to attending the funerals of Reform Jews.
However, despite all this, his eloquent oratory, lucid writing, erudition and sincerity earned him the respect of the majority of British Jews and many outside the Jewish community. His commentary on the Torah is still to be found in most Orthodox synagogues and Jewish homes in Great Britain.
Although Rabbi Hertz vigorously denounced the horror of the Holocaust, he was opposed to the Kindertransport if it meant Jewish refugee children would be raised in gentile homes. He admired and supported the British war effort, wishing Prime Minister Churchill a happy 70th birthday in late 1944 with the message, “But for your wisdom and courage there would have been a Vichy England lying prostrate before an all-powerful Satanism that spelled slavery to the western peoples, death to Israel, and night to the sacred heritage of man.”
He held many other offices as well at different times. He was: ex officio President of Jews’ College, and Acting Principal, 1939-45; president of the Jewish Historical Society of England, 1922-3, and of the Conference of Anglo-Jewish Preachers. He was on the Board of Governors of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Chairman of the Governing Body of its Institute of Jewish Studies. He was Vice-President of a wide variety of Jewish and non-Jewish bodies, including the Anglo-Jewish Association, the London Hospital, the League of Nations Union, the National Council of Public Morals and King George’s Fund for Sailors. In 1942, with the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, Chief Rabbi Hertz founded the Council of Christians and Jews to combat anti-Jewish bigotry.

**Professor Richard Green Moulton (1849-1924) was a lawyer and author who wrote a number of scholarly works including on the Bible.


The poem is based on the structure of an English language Haiku which is a very short poem following, to a greater or lesser extent, the form and style of the Japanese haiku. Traditional haiku consist of 17 syllables in three phrases of 5, 7 and 5 respectively. Japanese Haiku are often written on one line, while English Haiku are frequently written in three lines.
Haiku has become a term sometimes loosely applied to any short, impressionistic poem, but there are certain characteristics that are commonly associated with the genre. The first English Haiku is considered to have been written in the early 20th century while Japanese Haiku date back to the 17th century.


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