The menorah, the divine lamp, is a primary symbol for the Jewish people, far more ancient than the Magen David, the Star (Shield) of David. The seven branched menorah (lampstand) of the ancient Holy Temple is widely recognized as an organic, botanical image, a variety of salvia or “menorah plant.


The menorah also symbolizes the seven days of creation, and for the mystics it represents the seven lower sephirot, or emanations of divinity flowing into the world. The Hanukkah menorah, or Chanukiah, has eight candles or olive oil lights, one for each night of the festival, plus a ninth service candle, the shamash, to light the others.

Exodus 25:31-38 describes the making of the Menorah for the Mishkan, the first Holy Temple:

You shall make a menorah (lamp) of pure gold; of hammered workmanship shall the menorah be made; its shaft, and its branches, its bowls, its bulbs, and its flowers, shall be of the same. Six branches shall come from its sides; three branches of the menorah from the one side, and three branches of the menorah from the other side…it shall all be one hammered work of pure gold. And you shall make for it seven lamps.”

oil burning chanukkiah

Oil-burning Hanukkah menorah

Reb Zalman taught us that the Bobover Rebbe, a Hassidic master, would meditate and contemplate the lights of the menorah as they burned all the way down, for the mitzvah of the Hanukkah lights is in seeing them and contemplating the miracles of the holiday, of life. I like to make the menorah lighting a meditative practice. First, sense the dark before the match is struck. As you kindle the lights, let the glow fill your soul. Each night watch the light growing, gradually overtaking the darkness. The tipping point is the fifth night, when there are more lights than dark places. (That’s when we gave our kids their Hanukkah gelt, monetary gifts.) On the eighth night the fullness of the holiday is realized. (That’s when we gave the presents.) When the eight lights burn down, I imagine them ascending to the heavens and mingling with the stars. Let’s keep the skies dark so we can see their light.


Learn more about the history of the Menorah as a Jewish symbol.


Featured Image: Salvia Hierosolymitana Bioss, Jerusalem Moria or “Menorah Plant,” via Neot Kedumim


Continue on to find out about the Green Menorah environmental covenant, or return to the Gateway of Light.