A Green Menora

On Shabbat Hanukka, we read the passage from the prophet Zechariah that celebrates the great menorah in a rebuilt Holy Temple after the Babylonian captivity. Zechariah, in visionary, prophetic style, goes beyond the Torah's description of the original menorah (literally, a light-bearer). That menorah was planned as part of the portable shrine, the mishkan, in the wilderness. First Zechariah describes the menora of the future that he sees: "All of gold, with a bowl on its top, seven lamps, and seven pipes leading to the seven lamps." It sounds like the original bearer of the sacred light. But then he adds a new detail: "By it are two olive trees, one on the right of the bowl and one on the left" (4: 2-3). And then - in a passage the rabbis did not include in the haftara - Zechariah explains that the two olive trees are feeding their oil directly into the menorah (4: 11-13). No human being needs to press the olives, collect the oil, clarify and sanctify it. The trees alone can do it all. Now wait! This is extraordinary. What is this light-bearer that is so intimately interwoven with two trees? Is the golden menorah the work of human hands, or itself the fruit of a tree? Both, and beyond. In our generation it might be called a "cyborg," a cybernetic organism that is woven from the fruitfulness both of adama (an earthy sprouting from the humus-soil) and Adam (a human earthling). Just as earth and earthling were deeply intermingled in the biblical creation story, so the divine light must interweave them once again, and again and again, every time the light is lit in the Holy Temple. What stirs Zechariah to this uncanny vision? Once we listen closely to the Torah's original description of the menorah for the wandering desert shrine, we may not be quite so surprised. For the Torah describes a menorah that has branches, cups shaped like almond blossoms, petals and calyxes (the tight bundles of green leaves that hold a blossom) (Exodus 25:31-40 and 37:17-24). In short, a Tree of Light, a Green Menora. Small wonder that Zechariah envisioned its receiving oil directly from the olive trees! And in the legend told by the Talmud as the origin of Hanukka, the light itself is a miracle. One day's oil is sufficient for eight days' needs. At the physical level, this is about conserving energy, the triumph of sustainable sources of energy over the Seleucid empire that guzzles oil and other forms of material wealth. Seen this way, a green menorah can become the symbol of a covenant among Jewish communities and congregations to renew the miracle of Hanukka in our own generation: Using one day's oil to meet eight days' needs. By 2020, cutting oil consumption by seven-eighths. If this seems overwhelmingly hard to accomplish against the entrenched power of our own oil empires, Hanukkah also reminds us: Small groups of seemingly powerless human beings can face huge and powerful institutions - and change the world. But let us not stop at the economic, political, or ecological levels of meaning. At the spiritual level, since eight is the number of "Beyond," the storied eight-day miracle reminds us that the Infinite is always present in the One. It reminds us that conserving oil, or coal, or our planet is not just a political or economic or even ecological decision. It comes when we take into our hearts the knowledge that material possessiveness, hyper-ownership, is simply not necessary to well-being. For the Infinite is always present when we choose to light the Light.