A Light unto the Nations
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein | June 23, 2016
A light unto the Nations: “Speak to Aaron and say to him, ‘When you set up the lamps, see that all seven light up the area in front of the lampstand.’” — Numbers 8:2
The Torah portion for this week is Behaalotecha, which means “when you raise up,” from Numbers 8:1–12:16, and the Haftorah is from Zechariah 2:14–4:7.
This week’s Torah reading describes one of the most powerful symbols associated with Israel — the menorah, or lampstand. In fact, the menorah, which once lit the ancient Temple, is the emblem of Israel today. It is emblazoned on the Arch of Titus, which depicts the Roman conquest of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., and it stands at both the entrance of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament, and the stairs to the Western Wall, the last remnant of the Temple. The menorah encapsulates Judaism both now and in the past. But what does it stand for?
In Proverbs 6:23 we read, “For this command is a lamp, this teaching is a light . . .” The light of the menorah represents knowledge. However, in this week’s Torah portion, we learn something critical about the nature of wisdom and knowledge. The verse reads, “When you set up the lamps, see that all seven light up the area in front of the lampstand.” The Sages explain this commandment meant that the six outer branches of the menorah had to “face” the central seventh branch.
According to the Sages, the six outer branches of the menorah represent the six areas of knowledge: medicine, physics, mathematics, art, psychology, and sociology. From these bodies of knowledge have come heart transplants, classical music, skyscrapers, and many of the wonderful developments and inventions that have shaped our world. However, they must all be connected to the seventh central branch of the menorah. The seventh branch represents God and His Word. Without the guiding light of the central flame, these other fields of knowledge are empty at best and destructive at worst.
This idea was powerfully demonstrated in a scene from the Academy Award-winning movie “Schindler’s List.” In it, the Nazis were going from home to home seeking hidden Jews. At first all is quiet, then, as the Jews were discovered, the sound of machine guns and screaming filled the air. In the midst of this chaos and tragedy, classical music was heard. Puzzled, two Nazis looked for the source and discovered a fellow Nazi playing impeccably on a piano. “Bach?” one Nazi asked. “No, Mozart,” the other corrected him. The scene continued to unfold with the cold-blooded murder of innocent men, women, and children while Mozart was played in the background.
Knowledge without God is not wisdom. Nine out of the 13 experts who devised Hitler’s “Final Solution” had doctorate degrees.
Our job is to combine our wisdom with the light of God’s Word. In that way, “you will be a light to guide the nations” (Isaiah 42:6 NLT) and will truly illuminate the world with wisdom, beauty, goodness, and godliness.