If you have been to Rome, you no doubt saw the Arch of Titus. He was the Roman emperor responsible for the conquest of Israel and the destruction of the Holy Temple in the year seventy. Depicted on the arch is the Menorah which the Roman soldiers carried away from Jerusalem and brought to Rome. As described in the Torah this week, it was a seven-branched candelabra that was now shown as a “trophy” in enemy hands.
While the size of the Menorah is unclear, it had a central place in the desert sanctuary, representing God’s continuous and radiant presence. And then on a grand scale, the Menorah was a primary symbol of the First Temple built by Solomon, and then the Second Temple also; the one that was destroyed by Titus and his army.
The Arch of Titus was intended to convey the glory and victory of Rome. But for Jews, it was the symbol of their defeat and tragedy. And so it was that for Jews, the Arch of Titus came to represent a world that was but a prayer and dream; a world of Jewish renewal, self-determination and pride.
Came the end of the nineteenth century. The early Zionists adopted the Menorah as a national emblem. It was intended to symbolize not only the past, but the fulfillment of the Jewish dream to again be “a free people in our own land.” The Menorah of Titus’ triumphant procession had symbolized Jewish defeat and exile. The rebirth of the Jewish state would be represented by the return and display of that Menorah. In place of victimhood would come honor, pride and sovereignty.
When we look upon the Menorah, may we recall that it has a long compelling history. As the foremost symbol of Judaism, it summons us to spread the light of Godliness can be here and now.
The Menorah has survived history and come alive with its message of hope for the Jewish people, the State of Israel, and all humanity. A hope that can be realized only when humanity becomes humane. The Menorah calls to us to believe in such a time.
I wish you and your loved ones a Sabbath of peace and love.
Rabbi David Greenberg