And G‑d spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and say to him: When you light the lamps [of the menorah], the seven lamps should give light toward the face of the menorah.1

Our sages tell us that the physical universe is the last of a series of worlds generated by the Creator, the final link in a “chain of evolution” (seder hishtalshelut) from the abstract to the tactual and from the spiritual to the material. In other words, everything we see or experience in the physical world also exists in a higher, more spiritual form. If the physical world contains objects such as water and stones, these are but material incarnations of spiritual realities in the higher spheres of creation; if the physical world consists of four “kingdoms”—mineral, vegetable, animal and human—then these four gradations of vitality likewise exist within the realm of the spirit; and if our physical selves inhabit the physical phenomena of time and space, these are the product of a “spiritual time” and a “spiritual space” inhabited by our souls.

The ultimate physical representation of “spiritual space” was the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem—the place and edifice chosen by G‑d to serve as a meeting-point of the supernal and the terrestrial. For while all of physical space mirrors its metaphysical prototype, a veil of concealment interposes between the material world and its spiritual source. A “holy” place, however, is a place where this veil is less opaque, where the spiritual soul of reality can be more readily glimpsed. The Holy Temple was the holiest place in the world: the place where the veil was most translucent and—in its innermost and holiest chamber—altogether dissolved.2

So the physical dimensions of the Holy Temple are a model for the spiritual landscape of the soul. The Holy Temple consisted of numerous domains, chambers and vessels, and scholars and mystics throughout the generations have written on how each of these corresponds to another element of the inner life of man and illuminates its divine function and purpose.3 In a manuscript that recently came to light,4 the Lubavitcher Rebbe explores the spiritual significance of one of the basic components of the Holy Temple—the menorah—and its position within the space of the Temple.

Alignment of the Lights

The four walls of the Holy Temple were aligned with the four points of the compass, and the entire edifice implied a progression from east to west. One entered the first of a series of courtyards—the Women’s Court—from the east, and proceeded westward to the fifteen steps ascending to the Israelite Court. At the western end of the Israelite Court were the steps leading to the Priestly Court, where the outdoor altar stood and where much of the Temple service was performed. West of the altar were the steps ascending to the Sanctuary. First one entered the Hall, which extended across the eastern face of the Sanctuary; west of the Hall was the Sanctuary itself, an oblong structure measuring sixty cubits from east to west and twenty cubits from north to south. The Sanctuary was divided into the Holy, which occupied its eastern two-thirds, and the Holy of Holies, which comprised the western third of the Sanctuary.

Floor plan (top) and model (below) of the Second Temple
Floor plan (top) and model (below) of the Second Temple

Each westward progression was an ascent to a higher level of holiness, requiring a greater degree of sanctity for admittance. The Holy of Holies, the most westerly and holiest part of the Sanctuary, was off-limits to all except for the kohen gadol (high priest), and he, too, could enter there only on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. In the words of our sages, “The divine presence is in the west.”5

The greater sanctity of the west was also reflected in the “western lamp” (ner hamaaravi) of the menorah, the seven-lamp candelabra that stood in the Sanctuary and symbolized the Holy Temple’s role as a source of light for the world. The menorah consisted of a central stem, from which six arms extended—three on each side—to the full height of the menorah. Each of these was topped by a lamp, forming a row of seven lamps which were lit each afternoon and which burned through the night. The “western lamp” was unique in that, though it contained the same amount of oil as the others, it miraculously burned longer than the rest; often, it was still burning when the kohen (priest) came to light the menorah the next day. The western lamp was also the source of light for the others: the other six lamps of the menorah were lit from the western lamp, while the western lamp was lit from the fire of the outdoor altar.

Which lamp was the “western lamp”? The question is more complicated than it seems, since the Talmud6 records two opinions regarding the position of the menorah in the Sanctuary. According to Rabbi Judah Hanassi, the menorah was positioned along the length of the Sanctuary, so that the seven lamps were aligned from east to west. Rabbi Elazar is of the opinion that the menorah stood to the width of the Sanctuary, so that its lamps extended from north to south.

But if the menorah was aligned north to south, which was the “western lamp”? Rabbi Elazar explains that the “western lamp” is in fact the middle lamp—the one atop the Menorah’s central stem. The reason it is called the “western lamp” is that its wick faced westward, toward the Holy of Holies, while the other lamps were turned toward the “western lamp”—the three northern lamps facing southward, and the three southern lamps facing northward. (This explains the meaning of the words in the opening verse of our Parshah, “the seven lamps should give light toward the face of the menorah,” the “face of the menorah” being its central stem.)

It would seem that according to Rabbi Judah, at least, identifying the “western lamp” is a simple matter: if the lamps ran from east to west, the “western lamp” would be the one at the menorah’s western extremity — the lamp furthest from the entrance to the Sanctuary and closest to the Holy of Holies. Indeed, this is how Maimonides7 understands the opinion of Rabbi Judah. Most of the other commentaries, however, are of the opinion that the “western lamp” according to Rabbi Judah is the second lamp from the east (sixth from the west), and that it derives its name from the fact that it is to the west of the most easterly lamp.8

The Axis

The Talmud relates how, on one occasion, a heavenly voice made itself heard regarding a difference of opinion among the sages in a matter of Torah law, proclaiming: “These and these are both the words of the living G‑d.”9 Since both opinions are based upon the divinely ordained methods of Torah interpretation, and both have been arrived at by individuals utterly committed to the divine truth, both are “the words of the living G‑d.” Both are Torah, G‑d’s articulation of His wisdom and will via the human mind.

In actuality, only one viewpoint can be implemented. The menorah in the Holy Temple stood either to the length of the Sanctuary or to its width—it could not have been aligned both ways at the same time. The Torah itself instructs what to do when those empowered to interpret its laws disagree: “follow the majority.”10 But if only one of two equally valid expressions of the divine wisdom can be realized in the definitive realm of physical action, this is not the case in the nebulous world of the soul. The heart can simultaneously be attracted and repelled; the mind can simultaneously be aware and forget. In the spiritual applications of Torah, the dictum “These and these are both the words of the living G‑d” can be implemented most literally.

What is the spiritual significance of the argument whether the menorah stood to the length or to the width of the Sanctuary? In spiritual space, a thing’s “length” is its extent—how far it reaches, how low it descends. The concept of a “chain of evolution” described above is a typical example of spiritual length: a thing evolves from an abstract, ethereal state to successively coarser and more mundane forms. The distance of its lowest incarnation from its initial state is the measure of its “length.”

Spiritual “width” is a thing’s manifestation in numerous parallel forms and expressions. As the term “width” implies, we are not speaking of greater and lesser forms or of closer and more distant expressions, but of parallel facets of a single truth, each as closely related to the original as the others.

These definitions of spiritual “length” and “width” are evident in the structure of the Holy Temple. The length of the Temple ran from west to east, so that a thing’s position in the longitude of the Holy Temple was also the measure of its proximity to the Holy of Holies. In the Holy Temple, more westerly is more holy. On the other hand, a thing’s position in the width of the Temple—its southerliness or northerliness—did not imply its greater or lesser holiness, only its particular place in the spectrum of expressions of a particular level of holiness.

“The soul of man is a lamp of G‑d.”11 If all components and elements of the Holy Temple have their counterpart in the human soul, the menorah is the soul, the axis of the spiritual life of man.12 What is this axis? What defines man? This is what lies at the heart of the debate between Rabbi Judah and Rabbi Elazar. For the position of the menorah—the question of whether its seven lamps were aligned with the length of the Holy Temple or with its width—turns on the question of what the menorah is: is it the “long” element or the “wide” component of the human soul?

Intellectual Latitude

The human soul possesses many attributes and faculties, but there are two that stand out as the definers of its personality: the intellect and the emotions. Indeed, we commonly categorize people into two general types: “intellectual” people, or those who predicate their lives upon their reason and understanding; and “emotional” individuals, who are primarily motivated by their feelings, intuitions, convictions and commitments.

In other words, the soul has both an intellectual and an emotional “menorah,” as both the mind and the heart can serve as the “guiding light” of a person’s life. In certain individuals the intellectual menorah dominates, while in others the menorah of the heart is the core of their spiritual personality.

Intellect, by definition, is the capacity to conceive a truth, hold it in one’s mind, focus upon it and apply it to one’s experience. In this sense, an “intellectual” is one who sets the objective truth as the basis for everything in his life, to the utter disregard of all personal prejudice. In terms of spiritual space, the intellect is a “wide” thing. Ultimately, there are no greater or lesser truths: something is either true or it is not. There are, of course, variant expressions of truth, as an objective reality is perceived in many and various contexts; but this is a projection to the width rather than to the length. No expression of a truth—if it is truly an expression of the truth—is “further” from the abstract axiom than any other. Rather, the many facets of truth are parallel to each other, being the same quality of truth as expressed in different areas of reality.

The soul’s tool for the attainment of truth is the Torah, in which G‑d revealed His wisdom and will to man. Thus, the menorah of the mind consists of seven lamps, corresponding to the Written Torah (the Pentateuch), which is the essence of the divine communication to man, represented by the central stem of the Menorah; and the six orders of the Oral Torah—the divinely empowered human endeavor to apply the Written Torah to the six primary areas of human life—represented by the menorah’s six arms.13

The “intellectual” menorah stands to the width of the Sanctuary. Its seven lamps are all the same distance from the Holy of Holies, for all of Torah law is in equal proximity to its divine source, regardless of which area of life it governs. The law regarding “an ox who gored a cow” is no “further” from the essence of the divine truth than “I am the L-rd your G‑d.”

The “western lamp” in this menorah is the center lamp, which represents the Written Torah—the “stem” from which the six branches of the Oral Torah derive. It alone faces “the divine presence in the west”—the Holy of Holies containing the ark that held the Two Tablets of the Covenant, upon which G‑d Himself had inscribed the Ten Commandments, the essence of the Written Torah. For the Written Torah is the sole source of divine truth; the other six lamps derive their luminescence from its light. Nevertheless, the six lamps are spatially as westerly as the “western lamp,” for every expression of truth is as true as the written “original.”

Emotional Longitude

The seven lamps of the emotional Menorah are the seven attributes or middot of the heart: chessed, gevurah, tiferet, netzach, hod, yesod and malchut—love, restraint, harmony, competitiveness, devotion, bonding and receptiveness.14

The emotional menorah stands to the length of the Sanctuary. Unlike the mind, the heart is subjective and equivocal; it includes lofty and coarser emotions, sophisticated and simple feelings, purer and more biased sentiments. Its seven lamps extend from west to east—from potent, altruistic “love” to pedestrian, malleable “receptiveness.”

Yet the heart can yield a depth of commitment and drive that the most “intellectual” life cannot equal. This is achieved when the sixth lamp—the heart’s capacity for connection and bonding—serves as the “western lamp” and kindles the other emotions. When a person negates all personal desires and aspirations in order to bind his soul to G‑d, his “subjective” heart will be illuminated with a divine light and guide his life toward its ultimate fulfillment.15

“These and these are both the words of the living G‑d.” Rabbi Elazar places the menorah from north to south, seeing the mind and its capacity to apprehend the divine truth revealed in the Torah as the gist of the spiritual endeavor of man. Rabbi Judah Hanassi places it from west to east, expressing a vision of the heart and its capacity for self-abnegating connection with G‑d as the primary activity of the soul. Both are valid conceptions of our mission in life; both are to be realized in the life of every soul to the utmost of its capacity, in accordance with its nature and its G‑d-given potentials.