Don't Allow Our Enemies to Define Us!

Friday, 16 February, 2024 - 12:01 pm

One of the most identifiable Jewish symbols is a Menorah. Many Jewish institutions incorporate a Menorah into their emblem or seal, including the State of Israel. The origin of the Menorah as a Jewish symbol goes back to the one that was used in the Temple/Tabernacle, which is described in detail in this week’s Parsha. It was made of solid gold with very ornate designs chiseled into the gold.

One of the questions debated is the shape of the Menorah’s branches. Most images that we see depict the Menorah with six rounded branches coming out of the center branch. However, Rashi in his commentary to the Torah states that the branches emerged diagonally from the center. There is also a diagram drawn by the Rambam that depicts the Menorah as having diagonal branches emerging from the center. The Rambam’s son, Rabbi Avraham attests that this was his father’s hand drawn diagram, and that his father was deliberate regarding the shape of the Menorah’s branches.    

There is one major medieval commentator, Ma’aseh Choshev, who argues that according to Kabbalah it would seem that round is a more appropriate shape for the Menorah. He has an alternative way of understanding Rashi’s words. He also did not see the Rambam’s diagram, because he writes that since the Rambam did not comment on the shape, we do not know what his opinion is on the matter. (The manuscript with the diagram was discovered at a much later point. It was on display at the Yeshiva University’s Maimonides exhibit in 2022.) There is also room to understand the Ibn Ezra as opining that the branches were curved. But Rashi and the Rambam maintain that it was diagonal.

So then the question is how did round become the default shape of the Menorah for so long? This can likely be traced to the Arch of Titus. Titus was the Roman general (later Ceasar) who destroyed the second Temple around the year 70 CE. To celebrate his victory the Romans erected an arch on which the embossed images of Roman soldiers carrying away the Temple implements, including the Menorah. The Menorah in that depiction is round. The are several proofs that the Menorah on the arch is “the artist’s renderings” rather than a faithful depiction of reality. The Menorah is missing its three legs. There are images of dragons at the base of the Menorah, certainly not a Jewish symbol. Titus and his father Vespasian also minted commemorative coins with the phrase Judea Capta (Judea has been vanquished) on them. From time to time, the Romans would force the Jewish populace in Rome to walk under the arch as a means of humiliation.

In hindsight we can argue that the rounded Menorah is a symbol of Jewish exile, Judea Capta. It is ironic that Israel, which seeks to pull Jews away from the diaspora, the “galut mentality,” adopted a symbol of Jewish vanquishment and humiliation.

This is one of the reasons that the Rebbe encouraged the use of the “Rambam Menorah” as an emblem or symbol of Jewish institutions. Why should we allow our enemies to define us? Why should we celebrate Judea Capta and be reminded of that constantly?

This mindset of allowing our enemies to define us, has crept into the attitude of Jews towards Israel today. How many times can you hear Apartheid State without starting to wonder whether there is truth to that? How many times can you be told about Nazi-like treatment of Palestinians without starting to be uncomfortable in your own skin. We need to forget about what the “world thinks” and define ourselves. The UN, the EU, the Quartet, and the rest of our enemies do not get to define us. We must be proud of the role Hashem has for us and our place in the Holy Land. Judea will not be Capta! Instead, it is Am Yisrael Chai!

Please join us on Monday night to hear IDF Lt Col. Yaron Buskila share an eyewitness account of October 7 in a talk entitled, “From Crisis to Victory.” To register,

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Comments on: Don't Allow Our Enemies to Define Us!
There are no comments.