First Impressions; Are All Menorahs Created Equal?

The prophets describe two Menorahs that were built for use in the second Beit Hamikdash (The Holy Temple in Jerusalem of old).   They, nor the Midrash as well, don’t mention anything difficult or unusual about the construction of these parts of the Temple’s equipment.  The construction of the first official Menorah that was used as part of the Tabernacle ( the Mishkan), however, was evidently not as simple.  That Menorah was built by Moshe himself.  What’s interesting is that in spite of all of his great wisdom and Torah knowledge, according to the Midrash he was not able to properly construct that version of the Menorah without falling back on his prophetic inspiration.  Were the builders of the later Menorahs more skillful than Moshe?  Why did Moshe have more difficulty building his Menorah?

Upon closer examination, it emerges that Moshe’s Menorah actually was much more difficult to build.  The Torah specifies at the end of its description of the details of the Menorah’s structure that it must be crafted to conform exactly to that description without any margin of error; it must be built “b’tavnitam“.  Even the decorative flowers and other shapes had to be precisely the right size.  Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik (1886 – 1959), Chief Rabbi of Brisk, Belarus until the outbreak of WWII and uncle of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, explains (in his so-called “stencils” published in his grandfather’s book Beit Halevi al Hatorah) that with such a strict and exacting condition for its construction, Moshe was not willing to take any chances and therefore felt that he could not rely on his own mental picture of the Menorah’s plans and dimensions.  Although the two later Menorahs followed the same blueprints, Nachmanidies (1194 – 1270) is of the opinion that there is an exception.  The requirement of “b’tavnitam” does not apply to any subsequent Menorahs.  The decorative shapes that adorned the Menorahs’ arms could be sculpted with whatever dimensions the sculptor would fancy.  That could be why the construction of those Menorahs was less challenging and needed no prophetic insight to complete.

In life, there are many areas that are flexible and forgiving right from the outset.  In those types of situations, we are fortunate to have many chances to do things right.  There are some areas, however, that only offer flexibility in the long run.  Once they are started off carefully and properly, barring negligence they can be successfully continued and maintained even without the same painstaking attention to detail and perfectionism.  But initially, they are not forgiving and if they are not treated correctly and with precision from the get-go, their future success will be either permanently impaired or extremely difficult to bring back on track.  The history of the Menorah, with its law of “b’tavnitam,” reminds us to be sure to identify the areas and experiences in life that require extra care in their early stages and encourages us to take advantage of the opportunity to set them up in a way that will ensure future stability and success.


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