G‑d specified that the Tabernacle (and then the Holy Temple in Jerusalem) contain six holy vessels. In addition to the Holy Ark, the showbread table, two altars (one gold and one copper) and a laver (where the Priests would wash their hands and feet), was the menorah, the candelabra, which has since become a symbol of the Jewish people. But how much do you know about the menorah? Join us as we learn all about this item, whose spiritual light continues to shine until this very day.

1. It Is Described in the Book of Exodus

In the instructions for the building of the Tabernacle, the Book of Exodus details exactly how the menorah was to be fashioned. In 10 verses,1 G‑d specifies to Moses what the menorah should look, how it should be made, and precisely how much it should weigh (one talent).

Read: What Was the Tabernacle?

2. It Was Made From One Lump of Gold

The menorah was among the few Temple accoutrements that were beaten out of a solid, single piece of pure gold.2 This was such a difficult feat, the Midrash tells us, that Moses wondered how it could be done. In response, G‑d told him to toss the chunk of gold into fire, where it would miraculously take shape on its own.3

Read: A Single Bar of Gold

3. It Had Seven Lights

The menorah comprised a central stem, with three branches on each of its two sides.4 Each branch, as well as the central shaft, was topped with a lamp—seven in total.5

Among other things, these seven branches represent the seven heavenly spheres;6 the six orders of the Mishnah, all of which flow from Scripture; the types of souls, each one of which is exemplified by another emotion;7 or the seven orifices of the head.8

Read: Seven Branches, Seven Truths

4. It Was Ornate

Covered in fine etchings,9 the stem and branches were decorated with nine “flowers,” eleven “knobs,” and 22 ornamental “goblets.” Maimonides famously drew these goblets facing downward. It is explained that the overturned goblets symbolize the dynamic of sharing Divine light and goodness with others.10

Read: The Design of the Menorah

5. It Was Placed Opposite the Showbread

There were three items in the outer chamber of the Tabernacle: The Menorah to the south, the showbread table to the north,11 and the golden incense altar in the center.

Read: The Table and the Showbread

6. It Used Olive Oil

Each of the menorah’s seven lamps was filled with pure olive oil and a wick which was kindled on a daily basis. Interestingly, the preparation of the lamps appears to have been even more important than the lighting itself. Thus, we find that any Jew was qualified to light the menorah,12 but only Aaron and his descendants were allowed to perform the preparation. Each lamp was filled with a half log of oil, which was enough to burn through the longest winter night.

Watch: Pure Olive Oil

7. The Western Lamp Was Special

There was one light referred to as the “western lamp,” which was to burn “constantly,”13 through the day as well as the night. Which lamp was the western lamp? There is a longstanding disagreement among the sages whether the menorah was set with its branches extending from east to west, or from north to south. According to the opinion that the menorah was placed north-south, the central lamp was considered “western,” since the wick of that lamp was tilted toward the west.”14 According to the opinion that the menorah was arranged from east to west, it may either refer to the lamp that was actually closest to the west,15 or the second to the east—the first one that could be referred to as “western,” since it was to the west of the easternmost lamp.16

8. Solomon Added 10 Menorahs

For hundreds of years, the menorah was housed in the temporary Tabernacle or in its semi-permanent iterations. When Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, he had 10 additional menorahs made and placed in the sanctuary, five to the right of the existing menorah and five to its left.17

Read: Solomon’s Temple

9. Its Branches Were Slanted

The menorah is commonly drawn with rounded, semi-circular branches. This was in large part popularized by the image found on the Arch of Titus, which depicts the victorious Roman soldiers returning with the spoils of Jerusalem, which they had destroyed.

It appears, however, that the great authorities, Rashi,18 Maimonides,19 and others, were of the opinion that the menorah’s branches were actually straight, extending outward on a diagonal slant.

Read: Why Insist on a Straight-Branched Menorah?

10. The Maccabees Used One Made of Spears

In the series of miracles that we celebrate on Chanukah, the Jewish freedom fighters (Maccabees) entered the Temple Mount and discovered that the place had been violated, its valuables sacked, and its sacred items contaminated. Eager to light the menorah, they thrust spears into the ground, forming an ad hoc candelabra. In time, that was replaced by a silver menorah, and eventually a golden one.20

Read: 13 Maccabee Facts Every Jew Should Know

11. It Was 18 Handbreadths Tall

After discussing the Maccabees' menorah, the Talmud quotes the sage Shmuel, who quotes his grandfather, who cited a tradition that the Menorah was 18 Handbreadths tall.21

Read: Stories and More About Shmuel

12. One May Not Replicate It

Along with the other items unique to the Holy Temple, it is forbidden to replicate the menorah for personal use. Replicating a seven-branched menorah may be problematic even when it is manufactured from other metals, without all the decorative elements of the original menorah, or shaped somewhat differently.22

Read: Is It Kosher to Make a Seven-Branched Menorah?

13. Its Whereabouts Is a Mystery

After the Romans destroyed the Temple in 69 CE, they famously boasted about carting the menorah off to Rome. What happened to it next? Theories and rumors of sightings abound, including by Talmudic sages.

Read: Is the Temple Menorah Hidden in the Vatican?

14. Its Purpose Was Not to Give Light

“Did G‑d need its light?” the Talmud asks rhetorically. “Rather it testified to all inhabitants of the earth that G‑d’s presence dwells amongst Israel.” This also explains why the windows of the Holy Temple were built in a way that did not bring much sunlight in, but instead directed the menorah’s light outward.23

Watch: Engineering Light