It has been said that the menorah is a symbol of
the nation of Israel and its mission to be "a light unto the
nations." (Isaiah 42:6).
The sages emphasize that light is not a violent force; Israel is to
accomplish its mission by setting an example, not by using force.
This idea is highlighted in the vision of the Prophet Zechariah who sees a menorah, and G-d explains: "Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit." (Zechariah
The kohanim lit the menorah in the Sanctuary every evening and cleaned it out
every morning, replacing the wicks and putting fresh olive oil into
the cups. The illustration feautred on this page is based on instructions for
construction of the menorah found in Exodus
The lamp stand in today's synagogues,
called the ner tamid (lit. the continual lamp; usually
translated as the eternal flame), symbolizes the menorah.
The nine-branched menorah used on Chanukah is commonly patterned after this menorah, because Chanukah
commemorates the miracle that a day's worth of oil for this menorah
lasted eight days.
The menorah in the First and Second Temples had seven branches. After the Temples were destroyed, a tradition
developed not to duplicate anything from the Temple and therefore
menorah's no longer had seven branches. The use of six-branched
menoras became popular, but, in modern times, some rabbis have gone
back to the seven-branched menoras, arguing that they are not the
same as those used in the Temple because today's are electrified.