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T H E   S E V E N   B R A N C H E S

Based on Likutei Torah and Sefer Hamaamarim Melukat 5:295


"When you raise up the flames—the seven flames should shine toward the face of the menorah" (Numbers 8:2).

A soul is called a flame. The nature of a flame is to soar upward; it strives to unite with its source—the original element of fire.[1]

The soul too is driven upward—to be consumed in its source. This is its nature. Like a son yearns for his father so the soul yearns for G-d.

But in the souls of the lower worlds—Biya—this drive is concealed. When these souls descend into the physical world and cloak themselves in a physical body—their vision is corrupted. These souls are compared to animals who gravitate downward toward earthliness.

By contrast, the souls of the highest world Atzilut, retain their heavenward drive even as they exist in the lowest world. Their thirst for the Divine is manifest within them. [See our essay on Mishpatim for a more elaborate discussion of the two types of souls.]

Aharon is one of the seven shepherds of Israel whose task it is to nurture the Flock.[2] Aharon is commanded to awaken and reveal the yearning and love that lies dormant within the lower souls—to  “raise the flames.”


Flames—i.e., souls—are mentioned twice in the above verse: flames and seven flames.

Seven flames refers to the seven types of souls:

  • The soul that serves G-d with a love like flowing water (Chesed);
  • The soul that serves G-d with a love like fire (Gevurah);
  • The soul that serves G-d with Torah, the middle column [Tiferet];
  • The soul that serves G-d with the attribute of victory, to be victorious and overcome [challenges] in matters of turn from evil and do good  [Netzach];
  • The soul that serves G-d through acknowledgement  [Hod];
  • The soul that serves G-d through exaltedness, as in the verse His heart was uplifted in the ways of G-d [Yesod?];
  • The soul that serves G-d with humility [Malchut].

[In truth every person is a complete menorah comprised of all seven attributes. However, each person emphasizes a different aspect of the menorah. It is possible for a person to have only one of his lamps lit and yet he does not realize the lights are out. He thinks he is bathed in light. (Sichat 13 Tamuz 5722.)

Space does not allow for an elaboration on all the seven attributes, we will therefore suffice with an elaboration of Netzach, victory.

The ten sefirot are divided into three columns: right, left and center, or, giving, restraint and synthesis. The right side includes Chochmah, creativity, Chesed, kindness, and Netzach, victory.

These three attributes represent three modes of giving: giving that is motivated by the intellect—you recognize the virtue, beauty or awesomeness of a certain thing and so you are inspired to give; giving that is motivated by emotion—you love therefore you give; and giving that lacks an intellectual or emotional base and is done with a “stubbornness”—despite lack of inspiration. In the final case, the soul’s attribute of giving has permeated only the realm of action, not the intellect or emotions.

This is called Netzach, victory, since it is the powerful desire to win and succeed that drives us when all other inspiration is lost. (The last four sefirot in general are called “functional” or “active” sefirot).

One who serves G-d with Netzach is one who may lack inspiration but continues to do what he knows to be right with a “stubbornness” and a refusal to be dissuaded by seemingly insurmountable odds. See Likutei Torah on Tazria 21b.]

Two Levels of Soul

The souls are divided in seven only when we define them as servants of G-d: “I was created to serve my Creator” (end of Kidushin). When their identity is no more than their role in serving G-d, there are seven types, since there are seven ways to serve G-d.

But the soul exists on a higher level, where it is not a means to any other end—even to serve G-d—aside for itself. This is the soul as it exists with the Divine essence, like a child that exists in the brain of the father.

The soul was created to serve its Creator—but as it exists beyond the level of creation, before it descends to Beriah, it is a part of G-d and exists for itself.

On this level the souls are called flames—not seven flames—since they are not defined by their respective roles in the Divine service.

Yet Aharon is to raise both flames—the seven flames and the flames. Because the essence of the soul—the nondescript flame—is elevated by the elevation of the soul in its earthly descent. The essence of the soul is revealed and brought to the fore through challenges that the soul encounters in its descent.


In the haftorah of this week’s Torah reading we read about the vision of Zechariah, in which he says, I saw a menorah entirely of gold…this is the word of G-d to Zerubavel…

The name Zerubavel is a contraction of zarua b’bavel—“planted in Bavel (Babylonia).” This refers to the Jewish people who were exiled in Bavel at the time.

[In its literal meaning, Zerubavel is a person. The Alter Rebbe interprets the name kabblistically to refer to the Jewish people in general. Zerubavel, the man, was the one who led the construction of the second temple. He was a member of the Anshei Kenesset Hagedolah, the Great Assembly. He was called Zerubavel because he was implanted (in his mother’s womb) in Bavel. See Sanhedrin 38a.]

What is the connection between the menorah and “planted in bavel”?

The descent into exile is called planting because planting is done for the purpose of abundant growth. The produce will far exceed the amount planted. Similarly, the descent into exile is for the purpose of an ascent. It is through the descent into exile and its challenges that the essence of the soul is brought to the fore.

The Jewish people are therefore called “planted in Bavel” in connection with the menorah. This suggests, firstly, that even while they are in exile they are a menorah. Furthermore, the descent into exile is a planting that generates a far greater quantity of produce.

Through exile, Bavel, the flames of the human menorah—not just the seven flames—are raised to new and unimaginable heights.

[Adapted by Rabbi Yossi Marcus ymarcus@askmoses.com.]


[1] See Rambam, Foundations of the Torah, 3:10.

[2] [The Seven Shepherds and Eight Princes: Micah (5:4) prophesies that “This shall assure peace: If Assyria will come into our land and if he will tread upon our palaces, we will erect against him seven shepherds and eight princes.” The Talmud (Sukkah 52b) identifies these shepherds and princes: “Who are these seven shepherds? Dovid in the middle, Adam, Seth, and Mesushelach on his right, and Avraham, Yaakov, and Moshe on his left. And who are the eight princes? Yishai, Shaul, Shmuel, Amos, Tzefaniah, Tzidkiyah, Moshiach, and Eliyahu.”

In short, the difference between the shepherds and the princes is that the shepherds “feed” the people, nurtur them in an internal way (ohr pnimi), while the princes influence the people in a transcendent way (makkif). For example, within a tzadik there are these two aspects: when he teaches Torah, he is nourishing the student like a shepherd, affecting him in an internal way. By contrast, when the student watches the tzadik praying, this awesome and inspiring sight provides the student with nourishment as well, but not  a specific nourishment. It is undefined manner, makkif-like—similar to the impression made on a person from the regal and charismatic bearing of a prince as opposed to an actual thought that he has learned. See Torah Ohr 33d.]



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