Yesterday, we noted the comment of the Midrash (Tanchuma, Tetzaveh 5) drawing a connection between the kindling of the menorah in the Beit Ha-mikdash with olive oil, and the dove sent by Noach from the ark after the flood. The Midrash teaches that God said to Benei Yisrael, “Just as the dove brought light to the world, you, too, who are compared to a dove, bring olive oil and light the candle before Me.” The dove “brought light to the world” when it showed Noach an olive branch, announcing that the floodwaters had subsided, and the world was again inhabitable. Benei Yisrael were thus instructed to “bring light to the world” by supplying olive oil – the symbol of the dove’s return to the ark – for the kindling of the menorah in the Mikdash.
How exactly did the dove “bring light to the world” by bringing an olive branch to Noach? And what connection is there between the dove’s olive branch and the light of the Beit Ha-mikdash?
By informing Noach and his family on the ark that the world was again viable for habitation, the dove in essence announced that God was still interested in the world’s habitation. Although He was compelled to destroy the earth because of the corruption of mankind, God nevertheless wanted to give them a second chance and allow them to rebuild the world. The “light” brought by the dove was the assurance that God was again inviting mankind into His world.
The Beit Ha-mikdash made a similar announcement – though an even more dramatic one: that God wishes to reside among us here in our world. If the dove brought the news that God wanted to renew human habitation on earth, the Beit Ha-mikdash brought the news that God wants to have His own “habitat,” as it were, here on earth, because He wishes to build a close relationship with His creatures. Indeed, the Gemara in Masekhet Shabbat (22b) comments that the lights of the menorah, which included one candle that miraculously burned longer than the others, served as “testimony to the inhabitants of the world that the divine presence rests among Israel.” Just as it was uncertain whether God would renew the world after mankind’s failure that resulted in the flood, so was it uncertain after Benei Yisrael’s worship of the golden calf whether they would again be worthy of the divine presence. The “light” of the menorah represented God’s continued interest in residing among Benei Yisrael after the golden calf, just as dove’s olive branch signified God’s continued in interest in having people inhabit the world even after the generation of the flood.
We might also point to the fact that most of the sacrifices offered in the Beit Ha-mikdash served to atone for misdeeds. The light of the menorah, then, perhaps symbolizes the hope of rebirth and renewal. The notion of an atonement sacrifice, that God invites us to come before Him to seek forgiveness, serves as a profound source of “light” – of hope and optimism. Like the dove’s olive branch, it shows the world that God does not give up on us after we fail, that He still invites us into His world, and into His Mikdash, to try to improve. Just as the dove’s olive branch announced to the world the hope of mankind’s renewal, the Beit Ha-mikdash announced to the world the hope of personal renewal, that we are given the opportunity to rebuild ourselves after failure and reconnect with the Almighty.