Based on Parasha U’Likcha by Rabbi Moshe Grylak
by Braha Bender
1.07 billion light years away in the constellation of Serpens hides the Abell 2029 cluster. The unimaginably vast choreography of stardust and light hides today’s largest known galaxy, thought to be some sixty times larger than our own Milky Way. This distant sphere holds about one hundred trillion stars (that’s fourteen zeroes after the one).
What does Abell 2029 have to do with emu birds from Australia and dishwashing detergent and the human blood cell? At base they are made of the very same substances.
The building blocks of the universe are essentially quite simple but they comprise the substance of everything in existence. The breath-taking number and variety of entities in our universe - from the brain cells that developed Starbucks to the substance of the light of the moon - nonetheless are all just different combinations of the same essential elements. From the vastest galaxy to the tiniest grain of sand, every physical entity moves in keeping with the same few natural laws and substances.
The spiritual universe parallels this structure. Relative to the vast array of human experience, the laws that govern spiritual cause and effect are few. However, they too are the building blocks of the universe. Every intangible experience that has taken place, is taking place, and will ever take place moves like the galaxies in keeping with these essential supernatural laws, which by their spiritual nature are equally so their substance.
The Mishkan expressed these fundamental spiritual laws in diorama. When the sages say that the Mishkan was a microcosm of the universe, they mean it literally. For human beings seeking to understand themselves, the Mishkan was like a 3-D museum displaying and explaining all the relevant moving parts of human – and, in parallel, the universe’s - spiritual capacities.
Just as in any single human experience are many layers of meaning, so, too, the components and rituals of the Mishkan each contained multiple layers of truths. Let’s look at one aspect of the menorah, the seven-branched candelabra that stood within the holy inner sanctum of the Mishkan:
“And you shall make a menorah of pure gold. The menorah shall be made of hammered work; its base and its stem, its goblets, its knobs, and its flowers shall [all] be [one piece] with it.” (Shmos-Exodus 25:31)
The menorah was to be made of a single piece of pure gold hammered into intricate shape. Pure gold - like the pure, priceless substance of the ideal human heart. Hammered - like the twists, turns, and slip-ups of life that inevitably lead us one step, and then one more step, closer to intricate shape of our unique, individual personalities. Challenge is the substance of character. All in one piece – not a single limb may be disengaged from the process. Don’t be disenfranchised from yourself. This is your one, real, sweet chance at life. Don’t dissociate.
All these messages sung from the menorah’s golden branches, reaching eighteen tefachim high, a biblical measurement approximating the height of the average man. However, no message was more obvious than the bright flames dancing from those branches. The essence of the menorah, at the end of the day (and throughout it), was to illuminate. The menorah shone light. The menorah shone clarity. The singular, golden purity of the menorah’s limbs reached up with purpose.
Vitality, Purpose, and Prozak
The thing about today’s generation is that they aren’t just disenfranchised from Judaism, they’re disenfranchised from life.
Many Israelis ask themselves why their youth do not share the Zionistic fervor that drove the self-sacrifice of thousands only a few decades ago. Jewish America looks around to see their young adult population simply assimilating themselves out of existence. They wonder what changed. After all, they and their parents would never have done such a thing.
But the answer goes further than a patent retort. The answer hides in even deeper layers of the question. Don’t just ask why young Israelis don’t care about Israel and why young American Jews don’t care about Judaism. Ask why most young people today don’t much care about much of anything at all. Antidepressant use is at an all-time high. Even the safest college campuses sport public payphones every few meters offering toll-free direct lines to rape and crisis centers. The young Jewish population is not much safer from these ills than anyone else in their generation. We’re lost.
Why? Without clear, shining purpose, we lose our way. We lose our sense of energy and inspiration. Nothing animates us. We need pills to get out of bed in the morning and pills to go to sleep at night. Without any guiding light, we don’t know where to go. Everywhere and everything looks the same. We sense an emptiness and try extreme behaviors to fill it but it doesn’t work, so we go more extreme, ad nauseum. Where does it end?
Finding Your Inner Menorah
The question really is where to begin. The generation of the Zionists had a purpose, building a Jewish state, but when that objective was fulfilled, and the fiery agony of the holocaust had cooled, what was left to drive secular Israel? When the battle for Jewish identity in a cold world ended, and without Torah education to inspire, secular Jewish America grew bored with itself, and for good reason. It had nothing to live for and so quietly started dying.
The menorah shone with purpose, but not just any purpose. The menorah’s purpose illuminated a source of inspiration that never ends: the light of Torah, of the endlessly fulfilling labor of personal growth through mitzvos, of relationships that grow deeper and happier with every year, and of the Jewish partnership with G-d in changing the world and leading all of humanity to their true potential greatness. Now that’s light. That’s something to live for.
And that can be your very own inner menorah. The Mishkan lives on in you.