Shneur Zalman Levin, Beis Moshiach
It is hard to find clearer, sharper expressions from the Rebbe as we find on the subject of drawings of the menorah in the Beis HaMikdash made with rounded arms. The source for this depiction is the Arch of Titus in Rome which commemorates the victory of the wicked Titus over the Jews.
At the farbrengen on the afternoon of Shabbos parshas Mattos-Masei 5742, the Rebbe spoke at length about the shape of the branches of the menorah in the Beis HaMikdash and proved that they had to be diagonal as is clear from Rashi and Rambam; fortuitously, Rambam’s diagram was discovered at that time. The Rebbe addressed questions and differing opinions on the subject.
Besides the halachic explanation about the menorah’s branches, one could see that the Rebbe wanted to erase any connection to the wicked Titus.
“The typical drawing of a menorah with six rounded half-circle arms are most likely based on the copying of a menorah which non-Jews made in Rome and on the victory arch of Titus, may his name be erased. When the wicked Titus destroyed the Beis HaMikdash, he ordered that the vessels of the Mikdash be brought to Rome and in honor of the wicked one, they built a ‘victory arch’ bearing his name, ‘The Arch of Titus.’ On this arch they depicted the captive vessels of the Mikdash including the menorah which is drawn with half-circle branches.
“In addition to the menorah on the Arch of Titus not being at all accurate, it was obviously made to show and express the control and dominion of Rome over the Jews, r’l, so that they etched the words ‘Judea Capta’ (captive Jews) in several places and there were times that they compelled Jews to go to the arch to see what is written and inscribed there in order to humiliate them, etc.”
The Rebbe considers this not only a halachic problem, that the drawing of the menorah’s branches as half-circles is incorrect, but also an identification with Titus and the degradation of the Jews in exile.
“It comes out that drawing the branches of the menorah as half-circles ought to generate a hue and cry, in addition to it being the opposite of Rashi and Rambam etc. Also because it gives a certain imprimatur, r’l, to the drawing on the Arch of Titus which was made to cause anguish to the Jews and humiliate them.
“Instead of the drawing of the menorah reminding a Jew and inspiring him that his job is to be a ‘light to the nations,’ they make the menorah in such a way that it reminds of the opposite, that Rome vanquished the Jews, r’l!”
These sharp words of the Rebbe were meant to express his strong aversion to those who continue to draw menorahs and make menorahs copying that same humiliating menorah from the Arch of Titus.
Many Chassidim saw in this another step whereby the Rebbe was paving the way for Moshiach, by removing another layer of exile.
The handwritten diagram of Rambam shows the menorah with straight, diagonal arms, as his own son testified that the drawing was done specifically with diagonal arms.
The Rebbe said that it was even worthwhile for Chanuka menorahs to be made with diagonal branches, noting that this would not be copying a vessel of the Mikdash (which is prohibited) since a Chanuka menorah has eight branches and the menorah of the Mikdash had seven.
The Rebbe’s words were conveyed to the world. Thousands of shluchim and Chabad Chassidim began using menorahs with diagonal branches and in thousands of cities, shluchim set up huge menorahs with straight arms so the message spread even further.
THE STORM THAT FOLLOWED
Like many things that the Rebbe innovated, this topic generated a storm. Many did not understand the Rebbe’s point and some said it was a chiddush of Lubavitch. The Rebbe referred to this when Rabbi Sholom Steinberg, publisher of HaChumash Ha’mevoar, passed by the Rebbe for dollars. He showed the Rebbe the drawing of the menorah in his Chumash with diagonal branches. The Rebbe smiling said, “You probably know that they made a tumult around me about this.”
In recent years, we are beginning to see some signs of the thought revolution wrought by the Rebbe even among groups that did not understand the Rebbe’s words at the time. Decades ago, depicting a menorah like that on the Arch of Titus was standard practice, even among the most religious Jews including scholars. Today, most researchers contradict and have debunked the image of the menorah on the Arch of Titus. Some focus on other details of the menorah (like the base) but the common denominator among the researchers is that they have stopped treating it as “the Menorah of the Mikdash.”
An example of a response sent to the Rebbe was one sent by Rabbi Reuven Brim, author of Purim Ha’meshulash and other works, who wrote a long letter to the Rebbe about the menorah and tried to bring proofs that some of the poskim held that the branches were rounded. [He began his letter with profoundly respectful flowery verse which defies translation in English.]
R’ Brim wrote that even great Torah scholars did not take note of Rashi’s view that the branches were diagonal. He said that in his elementary school class where he taught for 28 years, he hung up a menorah with diagonal arms like Rashi’s view, “Although many did not approve and until recently expressed surprise about the diagonal and even when I showed them clearly in Rashi they were still not swayed, because the half-circle shaped menorah is so engraved in the mind so that even Torah scholars did not notice that word ‘diagonal’ in Rashi (they were not yet aware of the Rambam’s drawing).”
This letter shows how widespread the ignorance was and to what extent the “rounded exile” was etched into the minds and hearts even of Torah scholars.
Rabbi Yosef Kapach is the one who deserves a lot of credit for attacking the depiction of the menorah of Titus, as he was the one who discovered the Rambam’s drawing of the menorah. In his notes on the Rambam’s commentary on Mishnayos, he wrote, “Unlike the widespread drawing that was copied from the Arch of Titus which has already been proven is fraudulent since in the beraisa it says that it has feet while in the widespread drawing it is on a wide base, and other contradictions.”
If the menorah that came to Rome had diagonal branches why is it drawn with half-circle arms on the Arch of Titus?
The Rebbe concludes it was another menorah that was similar to the menorah of the Mikdash. The Rebbe said there were many who produced menorahs that were similar to the menorah of the Mikdash since that menorah was of great importance and especially idol worshippers did so for their idol worship. In fact, the menorah of Titus is one of those made for idol worship, which is why it has etchings of a dragon on it, a symbol used by idol worshippers.” (For those who are unfamiliar, the dragon was a type of creature whose image was frequently used in idol worship, as the Sages taught, “One who finds vessels on which is the image of the sun, the moon, a dragon – he should take them to [dispose of them in] the Yam HeMelach [Dead Sea].” Meaning that this was a clear symbol of idolatry).
Mr. Yaakov Agam, an artist who designed the huge menorah put up in Manhattan by Tzeirei Agudas Chabad, did research on this and noted that even from an artistic perspective, Jewish art is based on straight or diagonal lines like the Magen Dovid, unlike Christian art which uses circles and half circles.
It should also be noted that many err in thinking that the Arch of Titus, which is the source for the half-circle menorahs, was made in the days of Titus. Actually, research shows that it was built many years after the victory and even after the death of Titus so that whoever tries to base himself on this image is mistaken.
Another proof that this menorah is not the one used in the Beis HaMikdash can be found in the article publicized by Rabbi Greenwald in the periodical Meor Yisrael. He refers to one of the Kinos about the destruction of the Mikdash which says that the menorah of the Mikdash fell and was broken when they tried taking it into captivity and this was miraculous. This is why the menorah on the Arch of Titus does not have legs as the menorah in the Mikdash had.
As mentioned, many questions were raised by Torah scholars as well as historians and researchers about the Rebbe’s position. One of the common questions asked was why are menorahs found among antiquities rounded; likewise, there are drawings of rounded menorahs in siddurim of the kabbalists.
The Rebbe responded that in archaeological digs there are many other things found that are against halacha like round tefillin. Do we say that these discoveries change the halacha? Science cannot contradict halacha especially when we occasionally see that science changes when scientists realize that not everything seen at first glance as authoritative, is in fact so.
The Rebbe, as always, takes a very strong position on any matter that is against halacha and against the Jewish religion. It should be noted that except for the author of Maaseh Chosheiv and the author of Chochmas HaMishkan, no other poskim hold the view that the branches were rounded.
Furthermore, the Rebbe notes that those poskim who write that the menorah was rounded, paskened this way based on their understanding of the Rambam. However, once the Rambam’s diagram was discovered, obviously even they would agree that according to all opinions the branches were straight.
DIAGONAL MENORAH READY AND WAITING
Machon HaMikdash in Yerushalayim has constructed vessels of the Mikdash out of silver and gold by way of preparing for the construction of the Beis HaMikdash. For many years, the institute had a menorah with rounded arms but about twenty years ago, they decided to build a new menorah according to the Rambam’s view, with diagonal branches. This menorah is made of pure silver and can be used for the avoda in the Mikdash.
Speedily, in our days, when the third Mikdash is built, the kohen gadol will be able to light this menorah which is similar to the original menorah [until we have the original gold menorah described in the Torah].
Rabbi Menachem Makover, one of the people who runs the institute, who was very involved in the menorah, notes that the difference between rounded and straight also relates to the running of the world. Rounded represents nature while straight represents the supernatural. Beyond the halachic angle, the Rebbe definitely opened the path for miraculous conduct of the world – a world of Geula.
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