Question submitted to “Ask the Rabbi” by:
Profession: Retired physician
“I thought that a menorah had seven branches but I have recently seen one in my community that has nine branches. Why is there a difference? What do the branches mean?”
Rabbi Tully Bryks responds:
Thank you so much for your question!
The original Menorah in the Beis Hamikdash (Holy Temple) had a total of 7 branches. The Menorah was lit daily in Temple times and aside from providing light, it contained much symbolism. Examples include wisdom (spreading light to the world), the 7 days of creation, the Shabbos (which is the 7th day) and the like.
During the Greek Empire, after the Greeks conquered new lands, the Greeks usually assimilated the indigenous populations into their society and culture, rather then enslave or destroy them. In Jerusalem, this did not go so well, as many Jews preferred to remain committed to the Torah (Bible), rather than embrace the “enlightened” Greek culture. As a result, the Greeks defiled the Jewish Temple and banned the observance of key Jewish practices. Specifically, it became prohibited to observe Shabbos (the Sabbath) and holidays, to consecrate the new month, to observe kosher laws or ritual purity laws or to administer a Bris (circumcision). In addition, Torah study was prohibited.
The Jews revolted under the leadership the Maccabees and the small band of fighters miraculously managed to oust the much lager, stronger and well-trained army of the Syrian-Greeks (Seleucid Empire). When they came to the Holy Temple, they found only one supply of pure olive oil, which would only provide enough light to last for one day. However, it would take 8 days to procure additional pure olive oil. So they utilized the supply they had to light the Menorah in the Temple, and it miraculously lasted the full 8 days needed, rather than just one day!
In commemoration of these miracles, we celebrate Chanukah, in which every family lights a Menorah (or Menorahs) to commemorate and publicize the miracle of the oil. In order not to be confused with the 7-brach Menorah from the Holy Temple, and in order to reflect the 8-day miracle, we light a Menorah with 8 branches. There is a rule that these lights may not be used for any other purpose, other then viewing them. As such, a 9th branch is there for other functions, such as to provide light and/or to light the other branches. Since this 9th branch is not actually part of the Mitzvah (obligation) to light 8 lights, it is customarily placed at a higher height than the other 8 branches, clearly demonstrating that it is different. In contrast, in the Menorah in the Holy Temple, all 7 branches were the same height.
Thank you again for your question!
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