On Shabbat Hanukkah (this year, Nov. 29-30), we read an extraordinary passage from the Prophet Zechariah. Speaking during the Babylonian Captivity, he envisions the future Great Menorah, taking its sacred place in a rebuilt Holy Temple. The Menorah he imagines is alive! -- a cybernetic organism, a living Tree that bears the sacred Light.
Zechariah, in visionary, prophetic style, goes beyond the Torah’s description of the original Menorah (literally, a Light-bearer). That Menorah was planned as part of the portable Shrine, the Mishkan, in the Wilderness.
First Zechariah describes the Menorah of the future that he sees: “All of gold, with a bowl on its top, seven lamps, and seven pipes leading to the seven lamps.” It sounds like the original bearer of the sacred Light. But then he adds a new detail: “By it are two olive trees, one on the right of the bowl and one on the left.” (4: 2-3)
And then –– in a passage the Rabbis did not include in the Haftarah reading for Shabbat Hanukkah – –- Zechariah explains that the two olive trees are feeding their oil directly into the Menorah (4: 11-13). No human being needs to press the olives, collect the oil, clarify and sanctify it. The trees alone can do it all.
Now wait! This is extraordinary. What is this Light-Bearer that is so intimately interwoven with two trees? Is the Menorah the work of human hands, or itself the fruit of a tree?