As B’nai B’rith continues to celebrate its 175th anniversary, the menorah continues to be a link to the past, a commitment to the present and a promise for the future.
The founders of B’nai B’rith found their inspiration in the Torah. The name they chose, “Sons/Children of the Covenant,” referred to the covenant that the Jewish people have with God. That definition made them a Jewish organization, with the Torah as a guide to living a Jewish life. B’nai B’rith’s founders wanted each of the members of the organization to commit to becoming a better person by developing good character. This would be accomplished through their personal relationships as well as by helping others that needed assistance in their community.
They chose the menorah, one of the ritual objects described in the Torah, as their emblem. The seven-branched menorah is described in detail in Parashas Terumah. The placement within the Tabernacle is very specific.
We are told that the menorah should be made out of one piece of gold and God shared its creation in a vision to Moses. Commentaries have interpreted the design to have several meanings.
The Italian commentator Sforno interprets the branches, saying that the three branches on the right represented intellectual ideas and the ones on the left represented ideals that applied to how one made a living. The central candle represented the Torah. The six candles on the left and right are connected to the candle in the middle.
The menorah would stand in the outer chamber of the Tabernacle as an inspiration to those who saw the light it emitted. It was not to be placed in the Holy of Holies, as that was the place for the Torah, which did not need any additional light beyond its own. In Parsha Beha’aloscha, we find out that the job of lighting the menorah was given to Aaron, Moses’s brother, and the tribe of Levi. While other tribes were involved in the creation of the Tabernacle, the tribe of Levi did not have a special role until this important responsibility was given to Aaron. The menorah becomes a central piece of history later on later in the Chanukah story, as the Hasmoneans, descendants of Aaron, were the ones who drove the Syrian-Greeks out of the Temple.
The menorah has continued to be the emblem of B’nai B’rith, and in each of our districts, regions and communities we find its counterpart. We have seen it used in many ways; on the large display banner surrounding a stage of leaders and dignitaries at special events, on invitations or on certificates of service. It is proudly displayed on a lapel pin and used as a signet ring. You will see it on T-shirts, hats or neckties.
The menorah candles are used for the induction of members, installation ceremonies, conferences and special occasions. Each candle represents an ideal that B’nai B’rith members are expected to strive for. Light, justice, peace, benevolence, brotherly and sisterly love, harmony and truth are the words and concepts described in the reading. These words and concepts are also referenced in daily prayers, often as attributes of God and how man treats his fellow man. The traditional ceremony used today is one found in B’nai B’rith guides to ritual, but many other creative interpretations exist. The honor of lighting the menorah is one that is taken very seriously, and the ceremony is given a place of honor. The candle lighting ceremony has also been used to share the work of the B’nai Brith Program Centers and /or events in Jewish history, with each candle assigned a special project or event.
B’nai B’rith has been described by scholars as an organization that helped create civil society in America. The desire and need that existed for a Jewish civil society organization helped create the mission that continues to this day. As the Jewish community spread its wings across America, activities that support the Jewish and general community grew. Across the globe, the Jewish community adopted the organization as their means of organizing themselves within the Jewish community. The menorah came with them and the ritual demonstrated a link for all of those involved.
The menorah’s message for today’s members and supporters becomes even more meaningful when it is shared at events that bring together leadership from around the world. At these gatherings, individuals are honored for their good work in the community when they are called to light one of these candles. You will see the menorah used in the logo of B’nai B’rith International. It also is a symbol of the Jewish people and our bond with Israel, as it is part of the official seal for the country and stands outside the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
Help us keep the candles burning by introducing people you know to the wonderful work of B’nai B’rith as members and supporters. There is a pin with a menorah waiting for them.
Rhonda Love is the Vice President of Programming for B'nai B'rith International. She is Director of the Center of Community Action and Center of Jewish Identity. She served as the Program Director of the former District One of B'nai B'rith. In 2002 she received recognition by B'nai brith with the Julius Bisno Professional Excellence Award. This June will mark her 38th anniversary at B'nai B'rith. To view some of her additional content, Click Here.
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