The Mystery of the Hanukkah Menorah

By Asher Intater and Ron Cantor

The Bible speaks of the Menorah, or Lampstand, on three levels: one in the Torah, one in the Prophets, and one in the New Covenant.  Moses was commanded to build a seven–branched golden lampstand and place it in the Holy Place of the Tabernacle (Exodus 25:31-40). The priests were required to take care of the lampstand, but there was no clear teaching as to the spiritual meaning of the Menorah. When there is no clear teaching on something in the Torah—such as the Feast of Trumpets—it is often because it can only be understood in light of the New Covenant.

In the Hanukkah story, the Jews, led by Judah Maccabee and his small army, defeated the Syrian king Antiochus Epiphanies. It was considered a miracle that this tiny army of Jews could defeat the massive Syrian force.

Antiochus Epiphanies “devastated Jerusalem in 168 BCE, defiled the Temple, offered a pig on its altar, erected an altar to Jupiter, prohibited Temple worship [sacrifices], forbade circumcision on pain of death, sold thousands of Jewish families into slavery, destroyed all copies of Scripture that could be found, and slaughtered everyone discovered in possession of such copies, and resorted to every conceivable torture to force Jews to renounce their religion.”

The Menorah

After the surprising Jewish victory, the Temple, including the Menorah, was rededicated by the Maccabees, as they celebrated the new holiday of Hanukkah. (Hanukkah means dedication)  The lampstand at Hanukkah is called in Hebrew a Hanukkiah.  It has nine lights that represent the eight days that the Menorah in the Temple remained lit, despite having only enough oil for one day (according to tradition) and an extra candle, called the Shamash that is used to light the others. Though most American Jews call this a Menorah, it is NOT a replica of the Tabernacle Menorah. Nevertheless, it was clearly meant to represent the Temple Menorah in Jewish religious tradition, as it commemorates the miracle of the seven-branched Menorah during the Temple’s rededication.

A Sign of Restoration