Man’s Soul is the Lamp of G-d
The Midrash recounts that Moses experienced more difficulty with regards to the Menorah than with any other item in the Sanctuary, to the point that the Holy One, blessed be He, had to show him in detail how to make it (Bamidbar Rabba 15:4). The same thing occurred for the hooves of pure and impure animals, as it is written, “These are the creatures you may eat … this is what you shall not eat” (Leviticus 11:2,4), which indicates that He showed him these in detail. And as for the New Moon: “This month shall be for you the beginning of the months” (Exodus 12:2). Regarding that which concerns the Menorah, it is written, “This is the workmanship of the Menorah, hammered out gold” (Numbers 8:4). Moses therefore experienced great adversity, to the point that the Holy One, blessed be He, said, “Take a block of gold and throw it into the fire.” He did this, and a Menorah came out by itself, as it is written, “You shall make a Menorah of pure gold” (Exodus 25:31), meaning that it would be made by itself. This is why the Holy One, blessed be He, told Moses, “If you are careful to light before Me, I will protect your souls from all harm.” This is because the soul is compared to a lamp, as it is written, “A man’s soul is the lamp of the L-RD” (Proverbs 20:27).
The book Sheerith Israel (by the Admor of Pilov-Kotzk) states the following: It must be understood why Moses found the Menorah more difficult to understand than the hooves of animals or the New Moon, since for the latter two G-d showed him in detail, but for the Menorah even that didn’t suffice, and in addition it had to be made by itself. Moreover, since in the end the Menorah was, in fact, made by itself, why was it necessary for the Holy One, blessed be He, to begin by showing Moses how to make it in detail? He could have arranged things such that the Menorah was made by itself immediately, at the outset!
In my humble opinion, we can explain this in the following way. The Menorah, its branches, flowers, buds, and cups represent the body of man and his limbs, while the olive oil represents the soul, the latter being pure and originating from under the Throne of Glory (Zohar III:29), the most holy of places. Consequently, Moses’ great difficulty consisted in understanding how a man can be made of one single piece, truly whole and perfect in the ways of G-d. And even though G-d showed him in detail that a person can work on himself until becoming perfect, he still found this difficult to understand, for every day the evil inclination is stronger than man and is trying to kill him (Sukkah 52a), and it is very difficult to defeat it.
At that moment, the Holy One, blessed be He, showed him that by means of the pure soul found in the body of man and which helps him, it is always possible to defeat one’s desires and to be stronger than them. Yet despite all this, Moses still had difficulty imagining that man, who is dust and ashes, can defeat the stronger evil inclination every single day – an inclination that seeks to make him transgress – even with the help of the soul that is a Divine spark.
This is why G-d finished by telling him, “Strike it with a hammer, and it will be made by itself.” This is an allusion to the fact that man should work diligently on Torah, and that it is only by this relentless labor that he will perfect himself. (The allusion is contained in the word “hammer”, which cross-references what the Sages said about the evil inclination, namely that a hammer will shatter it). Without the considerable effort that this represents, man will experience much obscurity in his service of G-d. And as Rav Israel Salanter wrote, that which characterizes Torah labor is actual sweat while studying. When we build an object with a hammer, the more we strike it, the more finished it becomes. It is the same when we vigorously study Torah: The more we work, the stronger we become in terms of controlling our drives. This is what the Midrash says at the end, namely that the Holy One, blessed be He, told Moses, “If you are careful to light before Me, I will protect your souls from all harm,” for the soul is compared to a lamp. In working on Torah, it is possible to become stronger and to be protected from all harm, since it is also stated, “For the mitzvah is a lamp and the Torah is light” (Proverbs 6:23). The Torah and the mitzvot are also called a lamp, and the one who delves into the study of Torah and performs the mitzvot is protected from the Yetzer Hara (“evil inclination”, as it written, “only evil the whole day” [Genesis 6:5]).
One may also explain the Midrash in another way. Why in fact did Moses – who what a great Sage (Vayikra Rabba 1:15) and who possessed enormous intelligence (see Hagigah 14a) – experience such difficulty with regards to the Menorah, animals, and the New Moon? In particular, with regards to the Menorah, it was not Moses who received the order to build it, but rather Betzalel and Oholiav. Consequently, even if Moses did not understand how to make it, who says that this would have also been the case for Betzalel? Perhaps he would not have had any difficulty with it!
The answer to this, of course, is the one that we have already given above, and we learn from all this how a man can shape himself into a single unified whole, to connect himself to the Holy One, blessed be He, and to conquer his evil inclination.
Everyone should learn from this that it is not easy to understand the Torah without an enormous amount of effort, since even Moses, who was extremely great, experienced difficulties in things such as the Menorah, animals, and the New Moon. For these, he put in much effort and strain in trying to understand, yet in the end he didn’t succeed and so he asked G-d to help him, which also shows us his humility. Every man should learn how to acquire Torah: When he does not understand something, even if it consists of something simple, he should not be ashamed to ask again and again. This is the only way, and it is in line with what the Gemara says: “It is from myself and from you and the subject will be properly understood” (Pesachim 88a). Thus, he will be able to elevate himself in Torah knowledge.
It is written, “When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light towards the front of the Menorah” (Numbers 8:2), which signifies that if a man desires to elevate himself as much as possible in Torah and the fear of Heaven, he should invest a great amount of work into doing so. Then the seven lamps light the Menorah, which represents the body, and he will be protected from all harm and similar to a single block by his spiritual perfection. When he attains this ideal state of body and soul, he sees the Holy One, blessed be He, everywhere, as the verse states, “I have set the L-RD before me always” (Psalms 16:8), and everything he does, he does to unite the Holy One, blessed be He, and His Shechinah. Even in darkness and obscurity, he only feels the reality of G-d.
At that moment, the Holy One, blessed be He, also sees him in all places, follows him attentively, and protects him from all harm, as it is written in the Gemara concerning the verse that states, “all your males shall be seen” (Deuteronomy 16:16). The Hebrew word for “shall be seen” can also be read as “shall see” (Hagigah 2a), meaning that in the same way that he comes to be seen, he also comes to see. He sees the face of G-d, and G-d also sees him. This is what is said in the following verse: “The eye of the L-RD is on those who fear Him” (Psalms 33:18), for G-d regards all Jews favorably. This means that those who fear Him are also the ones who desire to see Him (the Hebrew for “fear” and “see” have the same roots), and desire to elevate themselves at every moment in Torah and mitzvot, in whatever circumstance they may be found.
There is much to support this idea, as for example the Parsha containing the commandment of tzitzit: “You shall look upon it and remember all the mitzvot of the L-RD” (Numbers 15:39). In effect, if a man wants to observe all the mitzvot, in accordance with the idea that tzitzit are considered equal to all the mitzvot (Nedarim 25a), he should see the reality of G-d everywhere (“You shall look”). This is also what is said in the following: “When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light towards the front of the Menorah” (Numbers 8:2), meaning that if one wants that the lamps be lit, one should always face the Holy Shechinah. During the festival of Chanukah, we also say, “These lamps are holy. We do not have the right to benefit from them, but only to look at them,” which is to say that if one desires to feel the holiness of the lamps, the holiness of the mitzvot, one should live in the fear of G-d (as we have said, the Hebrew words for “fear” and “see” are formed by the same letters). How can one achieve this? When one feels the reality of G-d, one finds oneself in front of the Menorah.
When a man conducts himself as such, he receives from Heaven an abundance of faith to thank and praise G-d, and he feels that G-d protects and performs miracles for him. This is just like a baby that always has his eyes on his mother, and she looks back at him with mercy, as it is written, “As a nurse carries a suckling” (Numbers 11:12). Thus a man who conducts himself as such belongs solely to the Eternal and elevates himself without cease.