“Speak to Aaron and tell him, ‘When you light the lamps, the seven lamps should shine towards the center of the Menorah.'” (Num. 8:2)
Why does the Torah emphasize this particular detail — that the seven lamps should face the center of the Menorah? Why not begin with the overall mitzvah — to light the Menorah each evening?
Also, what is the significance of the Menorah’s seven branches?
The Sages wrote that the Menorah represents wisdom and enlightenment (Baba Batra 25b). All wisdom has a common source, but there exist different approaches to wisdom. Every individual pursues those spheres of knowledge to which he is naturally drawn.
The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 15:7) compares the seven lamps of the Menorah to the seven planets in the solar system, illuminating the nighttime sky. What is the meaning of this symbolism?
Many of the ancients understood that the planets and constellations influence our nature and personality traits. A person under the influence of Mars, for example, will have different traits then one under the influence of Jupiter (see Shabbat 165a). In other words, God created each of us with a unique character in order that we should perfect ourselves in the particular path that suits us. In this way, all of creation is completed; through the aggregation of all individual perfections, the universe attains overall perfection. Just as each planet symbolizes a distinct character trait, each branch of the Menorah is a metaphor for a specific category of intellectual pursuits. God prepared a path for each individual to attain wisdom according to his own character and interests.
However, we should be careful not to follow our natural intellectual inclinations exclusively. The Torah stresses that “when you light the lamps” — when we work towards that individual enlightenment that suits our particular character — we should take care that this wisdom will “shine towards the center of the Menorah.” What is the center of the Menorah? This is the wisdom of the Torah itself. We need to draw specifically from the light of Torah, whose source is the underlying unity of all wisdom.
In truth, the seven branches of the Menorah are not truly distinct, separate paths. All seven receive light from the unified wisdom with which God enlightens His world. For this reason, the Menorah was fashioned from a single piece of gold, mikshah zahav. The special manner in which the Menorah was formed reveals the underlying unity of all forms of wisdom.
(Gold from the Land of Israel pp. 239-240. Adapted from Midbar Shur, pp. 53-55.)
Illustration image: Drawing of the Menorah on the Arch of Titus in Rome (1908).