The menorah of Chanuka, sometimes called the chanukiya has, as is well known, its root in the menorah of the Temple. While there are many halachoth (regulations) regarding how the biblical menorah should look and how it should be built, Rashi, the great French commentator, points to a most remarkable halachic feature that requires our attention. Regarding the instruction that the lamps need to be arranged in such a way that they are lit “towards the menorah,” (Bamidbar 8.2) Rashi comments that this means that all the lamps should point in the direction of the middle light.
The Italian sage and physician Rav Obadya Seforno, in his masterful commentary on the Torah, argues that this is to teach us that the “right-wingers” and “left-wingers” need to focus on the middle light which is the main light of the menorah. While both are completely dedicated to Torah and its tradition, the right-wingers, i.e. those who are busy with eternal life, learning and implementing Torah, need to know that without the left-wingers, those who occupy themselves with the affairs of the mundane world, Judaism will not succeed. At the same time, the left-wingers have to understand that without those who occupy themselves with the study and implementation of Torah, their worldly occupation would lack the opportunity of sanctification. Only in a combined effort, symbolized by the middle light, will there be the kind of balance which the Torah and Judaism requires. This is based on the talmudic principle that “If not for the leaves, the grapes could not exist.” (Chulin 92a)
Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, known for his philosophy of Torah and Derech Eretz (Torah and worldly occupation), commenting on Yacov’s final blessings to his children adds: “The nation that is to descend from him (Yacov) is to be, in its external relations a single unit and internally a “Kehal Goyim,” a United Congregation of many kinds of people and professions. Each tribe is to represent a special type of person. The people of Yacov, who, as Israel, are to reveal to the world the directive power of God penetrating and conquering everything that is earthly in human beings, is, therefore, not to show as being in any way one-sided, but, as a model nation, shall present in a nutshell the most varied appearance of all different characteristics. In its tribes, martial nations as well as merchant ones, as well as scientific and scholarly ones, et c. are all to be represented. Thus the fact is to be made clear to the world that the devotion and sanctification of human life in the bond with God through His law is not dependent on a condition to any special calling in life or national characteristic, but that the whole of mankind, with all its diversity is called on to accept the one common conception of God as taught by Israel and so from all the different individual and national characteristics of mankind into the United Kingdom of God.” (Bereshith 35:11,12, translation by Isaac Levy)
Chatam Sofer, however, gives this halachic requirement a slightly different meaning. He warns his readers not to deviate from the middle road. As long as Jewish law is fully observed, one should not be too much of a right-winger or left-winger. The ways of God are those which testify to religious balance. This does not mean, as some people would take it, that a mediocre attitude towards observance is suggested or that a kind of religious status quo is maintained in which people no longer strive for higher spiritual dimensions, but that one should understand that it is not to become religiously “fat” which is the ultimate goal, but to become spiritually high. To grow plump is to become overly right- or left-wing with the result that one topples over; to become high means that one grows in equal and straight proportions.
The gravest thing for a religious person is to forget what he represents.