Question: "What is the menorah?"
Answer: The menorah is a lampstand with longstanding tradition in both the Bible and the history of Judaism. The word itself is a transliteration of a Hebrew word. It was first mentioned in Exodus 25:31-39:
Make a lampstand of pure gold and hammer it out, base and shaft; its flowerlike cups, buds and blossoms shall be of one piece with it. Six branches are to extend from the sides of the lampstand-three on one side and three on the other. Three cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms are to be on one branch, three on the next branch, and the same for all six branches extending from the lampstand. And on the lampstand there are to be four cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms. One bud shall be under the first pair of branches extending from the lampstand, a second bud under the second pair, and a third bud under the third pair-six branches in all. The buds and branches shall all be of one piece with the lampstand, hammered out of pure gold. Then make its seven lamps and set them up on it so that they light the space in front of it. Its wick trimmers and trays are to be of pure gold. A talent of pure gold is to be used for the lampstand and all these accessories.
The original menorah was designed for use in the tabernacle in the wilderness before Israel entered the Promised Land. After the conquest of Canaan, it remained in the tabernacle (Joshua 18:1) and was later used in the temple Solomon built.
The design of the menorah was quite significant. It included a shaft complemented with three branches on each side; thus, it held a total of seven lamps. Each cup included an intricate design. The menorah was made of one piece of hammered gold weighing one talent. Scholars debate the exact weight of a “talent of pure gold.” First-century Jewish historian Josephus said that the menorah in his time was approximately 100 pounds. If this was the size of the talent used in Exodus, it would represent an enormous sum of money. To give a general idea, 1 gram of gold is currently worth about $57.35. One hundred pounds of gold would be worth $2,603,690.00. Certainly, in any period of history, a talent of gold would have had tremendous value. One commentator mentions a talent of gold as worth 20 years’ wages for a common laborer in the first century.
According to the Mosaic Law, the menorah was lit every evening and cleaned every morning (Exodus 27:21). It burned fresh olive oil.
Today, the menorah continues to be one of the best-known symbols of Judaism. It is a common fixture in local synagogues. A nine-candle version is used in association with the Jewish holiday of Hanukah. Additionally, those involved in reconstructing items for a future Jewish temple have made menorahs reflecting the design given to Moses.