In God’s command to Moshe to build a menorah for the Mishkan, He instructs, “…miksha tei’aseh ha-menorah” – “the menorah shall be made of one piece [of gold]” (25:31). Rashi, based on the Midrash, explains this to mean that the menorah would be miraculously built on its own. Moshe had difficulty with the menorah, Rashi comments, and so God informed him that he can simply throw the gold into fire and the menorah would then miraculously emerge. The basis for this comment is likely the passive form of the word tei’aseh (“shall be made”), which suggests that the menorah would be made by itself, without anyone constructing it.
Rashi’s comment becomes very difficult to understand in light of the verse later in Sefer Shemot (37:17) that states explicitly that Betzalel made the menorah. Moreover, God concludes His commands regarding the menorah here in Parashat Teruma by saying, “Look and make [them] according to their structure which you are shown on the mountain” (25:40). This would certainly suggest that God commanded Benei Yisrael to build the menorah, and not that it was formed on its own through a miracle.
Another question arises as to why Moshe encountered difficulty specifically with regard to the menorah. What made the menorah more difficult to construct than the other parts of the Mishkan?
Rav Moshe Mordechai Karp, in his Va-yavinu Ba-mikra, offers an explanation of Rashi’s comments by noting the requirement to construct the Mishkan and its accessories from exactly one kikar of gold (25:39). After commanding that the menorah be made from a single block of gold, God then instructs that the people must also make various accessories – specifically, lamps, tongs and pans (25:37-38). All this, God then instructs, must be produced from exactly one kikar of gold. Rav Karp thus explains that what troubled Moshe was the need to both produce the menorah from a single block of gold, and ensure not to exceed the total amount of one kikar for the menorah and its accessories. The artisans needed to allocate a single block of gold for the menorah itself, and then use for the accessories the precise amount of gold that would bring the total to a kikar. This required precise calculations that Moshe found very difficult. God therefore commanded Moshe, in Rashi’s words, “Cast the kikar into the fire, and it would be made on its own.” Rav Karp explains this to mean that Moshe would cast the entire kikar of gold into the fire, and the fire would miraculously divide this amount of gold into a block from which to construct the menorah, and the remaining gold for the accessories. Thus, the artisans still needed to construct the menorah, as the miracle performed to help them was simply the precise distribution of the kikar of gold necessary to meet God’s specifications.