The first mention of the menorah, the seven-branched candelabrum, appears in Parashat Terumah. The menorah vies with the Star of David as the symbol of the Jewish people and of Judaism.
Ancient burial tombs featuring stone-carved menorahs have been excavated. The menorah is widely seen in art and decoration. It has found its way into synagogues and many communal institutions. A large menorah depicting major events from Jewish history stands right outside the Knesset building in Jerusalem.
One reason the menorah has assumed so much importance is its historical connection to the Tabernacle in the wilderness, and later to the Temple in Jerusalem. The menorah became the symbol of the undying spirit of Israel, because its flames burned continuously. The eternal flame meant that Jews possessed the spark of God, which would never be extinguished.
According to our tradition, the menorah also represents the members of one’s immediate family, defined by seven particular relatives: father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister and spouse. The menorah represents the fullness of the Jewish family. The lights emanating from it depict shalom bayit, the kind of peace that should exist in the home between husband and wife, children and parents, brothers and sisters.
In Jewish literature, the entire Jewish people is depicted as a family. While family members, or members of the Jewish people, stand side by side or branch out in different directions, all of us are firmly rooted in the same foundation, just as the seven branches of the menorah are connected to the same stand.
The Shabbat candles at home and the eternal light in the synagogue are reminders of lessons for today that originated from the menorah thousands of years ago.