“When you set the lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lampstand” (Bamidbar 8:2).
Aharon has been told by God to place the golden menorah in the Mishkan in such a way that the light will shine to the front. Aharon could have made the angle of the menora so that way that only the kohanim could have seen it, from inside. It could have been done so that the light would shine towards the Holy of Holies, the place where the aron ha’edut was placed, but Aharon was commanded to let the light shine at the front so that everybody could see it. After the destruction of the Temple, all synagogues that have a minyan have the ner tamid (eternal light) as a reminder of the menorah that was always kept burning in the Tabernacle and in the First and Second Temples.
The sanctuary in the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in Amsterdam is built in such a way that the light shines outward. The windows and balconies of our synagogue, built in 2010, makes the connection between the outer and inner worlds – a connection between the world around us, which we are part of, and the Jewish world. The idea is that the light that we carry, from generation to generation, ledor wador, shines from inside out and from outside in. The windows on the east and west sides of the Synagogue are a menorah in themselves; that is the shape, as we designed with the architect. The seven branches on both sides lead the congregants, in a symbolic way, to the balconies and the ground floor. On the mizrach (east) side the Aron decorates the synagogue area, and at the same time it forms the middle, vertical branch of the menorah, with the three branches on both sides. It is a beautiful building, and presents the appearance we like to have. Our Jewish Community (1,080 families) want to be part of the world, but we also have something to give to the world. That is the essence of the light – we give to the world around us. We are leading the dialogue with the Muslims around us (I started a Dialogue Committee some 12 years ago). We want to show the world that our light does not shine only inward, but outward, and we want to be an example of how Jews should take their stand in the larger world. We have strong and friendly connections with mosques, as well as churches and other organizations. We try to be a light among the nations, to inspire both others and ourselves. Fire, light, has two sides. On the one hand if you don’t act responsible with fire, you might burn yourself, a house might be put to flames. Even the fire within us can ruin us if we become over-zealous in something we do. It might also harm others and us. However, if we light the fire and keep it burning in a proper way, and we guard it so that is does not extinguish, then we are doing the right thing. Keeping our lights burning, as the golden Menorah was kept burning by the kohanim in the Mishkan and the Temples.
It is our task to keep the fire burning by learning, teaching, being connected to the outer world, while simultaneously maintaining our inner Jewish world. It is a balance to keep, which is not easy.
About the Author:
Rabbi Menno ten Brink is the Senior Rabbi of the Liberaal Joodse Gemeente in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and Dean of the Levisson Institute for the training of rabbis.