The Hanukka Menorah
"And thou shall make a candlestick of pure gold; of beaten work shall the candlestick be made, even its base, and its shaft; its cups, its knops and its flowers shall be of one piece with it. And there shall be six branches going out of the sides thereof: three branches of the candlestick out of the other thereof, and three branches of the candlestick out of the other thereof". Exodus: 25.31-32
The above verses, from the biblical book of Exodus, are part of the instructions given by God to Moses and the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai, following their exodus from slavery in Egypt. The instructions for the ritual Menorah, which would light the Holy of Holies in the Ark of the Tabernacles, were part of a variety of holy objects, all to be made "in one piece from the purest gold".
Throughout the times of the First and Second Temple, it was the duty of the Kohanim or temple priests to replenish the oil and keep lit the Menorah's seven branches, the middle one being the center or 'source'. The six branches are said to have represented the six major heavenly bodies, including the sun, which were thought to revolve around the earth. With the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, the Menorah and other ritual objects were taken back to Rome and triumphantly paraded into the city. The historic Arch of Titus still displays Roman soldiers carrying the Menorah along with captive Jewish fighters brought to Rome to be sold into slavery.
The seven branch Menorah is not to be confused with the eight branched Hanukiah (Chanukkiah) or Hanukkah Menorah which symbolizes the victory of the Jews over their Greek oppressors in the second century BCE. The eight branches of the Hanukkah Menorah is meant to relate to the miracle of the oil which rededicated the Temple and burnt for eight days.
The original Temple Menorah vanished later on when the Rome was ravished by the Vandals in the Fifth Century CE. Other stories on the disappearance of the Menorah include one in which it was alleged to have 'sunk into the sand' when it was about to be loaded onto a ship after being taken from the ravished Temple in Jerusalem.
In modern times, the Menorah has been used to symbolize the rebirth of the Jewish nation, Israel. In fact, the image of the Temple Menorah is part of the national emblem of the State of Israel. A bronze reproduction of this Menorah is in place opposite the Israeli Knesset or parliament building in central Jerusalem. Modern Jewish synagogues and temples have a continuous burning Ner Tamid (Eternal Light) to represent the continuously burning ritual lights of the Temple.
One particularly significant meaning for the Menorah's special design, as described in the Book of Exodus, is that it symbolizes the Children of Israel as being a "light unto the nations". That the original Menorah "of pure gold and of one piece" was carried into the Land of Israel by Joshua and graced both Temples only add to the significance of this very important symbol of the Jewish People.