Throughout Chanukah this year, I’ve been contemplating the difference between the Chanukiah and the Menorah.
Today, we seem most familiar with the nine-branched Chanukah menorah, called the Chanukiah, representing the eight nights of Chanukah plus an additional candle to light the others. That last one is called the Shammes or Shamash, depending on your accent.
But the seven-branched menorah is far more significant and more ancient. It is, in fact, one of the oldest Jewish symbols, predating the Star of David by a couple millenia. When we see the menorah depicted on the Arch of Titus in Rome, it represents not only the destruction of the Temple but the carrying away of the Jewish people.
Already, in Exodus 25:31-40, we’re instructed on creating the menorah for the Tabernacle and to eventually take its place in Solomon’s Temple.
While the seven branches contain many possible meanings, the most straightforward is the seven days of the week with Sabbath as the pinnacle and, certainly, one of Judaism’s greatest gifts.
It dawned on me this year what that eighth branch could represent to us…
The original story of Chanukah celebrates the Maccabees’ victory. It was a human story, though their religious fervor definitely played into their zeal. The rabbis of later generations did not like the human emphasis of the celebration and added the legendary story of the miraculous long-burning oil into the festival and God became a part of the Chanukah story.
Going back to the menorah, I think about the seven-branched Sabbath menorah which represents a gift God gave to the Jewish people, and ultimately the world, but the Creation story that culminated in the Sabbath day pretty much starred God alone.
Later Jewish thought develops our partnership with God in the eventual completion of the work of Creation… and that’s where the eighth branch for the Chanukiah comes in… it represents us, our partnership with God.
The Chanukah story stars human players and it is our human partnership with God that will bring the ultimate Redemption.
Perhaps the Chanukiah can be likened to the four-branched shin that appears on tefillin, the meaning of which, we are told, will be revealed at the time of Redemption.
Okay, enough serious, spiritual contemplation… on to the ridiculous. While looking for interesting menorah pictures, I came across this fun item…
Apparently, you can buy this gift pack of He'Brew beer complete with instructions on how to make it into a a Chanukah menorah. L'chaim!
...and, finally, one of my absolute favorite Chanukah songs... Peter Yarrow wrote Light One Candle and sings it here together with his musical partners, Paul and Mary...