“The Cherubs”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Terumah, we read of the many and varied materials that were donated by the people to build the Mishkan, the temporary sanctuary, that was used by the Israelites during their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.

As previously noted (Terumah 5762-2002), the most important of all the furnishings in the Mishkan/Tabernacle was the Aaron HaKodesh, the Holy Ark, which housed the Torah and the tablets of the Ten Commandments.

The Holy Ark itself was made of acacia wood covered with gold, and had a golden crown around the top. The Ark was transported by two poles affixed to the sides of the ark with rings. These staves were never to be removed, to serve as a sign that the Torah must be readily transportable and with the People of Israel at all times.

In Exodus 25:17-18, the Torah states: וְעָשִׂיתָ כַפֹּרֶת זָהָב טָהוֹר, אַמָּתַיִם וָחֵצִי אָרְכָּהּ, וְאַמָּה וָחֵצִי רָחְבָּהּ. וְעָשִׂיתָ שְׁנַיִם כְּרֻבִים זָהָב, מִקְשָׁה תַּעֲשֶׂה אֹתָם, מִשְּׁנֵי קְצוֹת הַכַּפֹּרֶת , You shall make an ark cover of pure gold, two and a half cubits length and a cubit and a half its width. You shall make two cherubs of gold, hammered out shall you make them, from both ends of the ark cover.

The כַּפֹּרֶתkaporet, ark cover, is so sacred that the Torah in Exodus 25:22, states that, it will be from the top of the ark cover that G-d will speak with Moses, from in between the two cherubs.

It is fascinating and perplexing that the Torah, which is so resolutely against icons and idolatry, in this instance commands Moses and the architects of the Tabernacle to erect cherubic figures, and attach them to the very top of the Holy Ark.

Because of the supreme sacredness of the Holy Ark, only the High Priest was allowed to enter the sacred chamber of the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, where the ark was kept, and was the only one who ever saw the exposed ark with the cherubs.

Despite its enigmatic presence, the message of the cherubs is extremely important.

The fact that G-d instructs the builders of the Tabernacle to design the cherubs, shows that Judaism is not just warmed-over Ethical Humanism. Even though idolatry is deeply abhorred in Judaism, the fact that G-d tells the leaders to make this “idol,” shows that these images have value when used properly, but when abused they must be absolutely rejected.

The cherubs indeed come to teach a particularly cogent life lesson.

Rashi citing the Talmud, Sukkah 5b, defines the cherubs as דְּמוּת פַּרְצוּף תִּינוֹק לָהֶם , they have angelic faces of children.

The word cherub appears in the Torah in only one other place aside from the Tabernacle, in the story of the Garden of Eden found in Genesis 3.

When the first human beings, Adam and Eve, defied G-d and ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, G-d banished them from the Garden of Eden.

The Torah, in Genesis 3:24 relates, וַיְגָרֶשׁ אֶת-הָאָדָם, וַיַּשְׁכֵּן מִקֶּדֶם לְגַן עֵדֶן אֶת הַכְּרֻבִים, וְאֵת לַהַט הַחֶרֶב הַמִּתְהַפֶּכֶת, לִשְׁמֹר אֶת דֶּרֶךְ עֵץ הַחַיִּים , and G-d drove out the man, and stationed at the east of the Garden of Eden, the cherubs and the flame of the ever-turning sword, to guard the way to the Tree of Life.

Rashi, citing Shemot Rabbah 9:11, describes the כְּרֻבִים –“kruvim” in that context as מַלְאֲכֵי חַבָּלָה , angels of destruction. How could cherubs, kruvim, be described in one instance as “children with angelic faces” and “angels of destruction” in another?

The answer, perhaps, lies in the context. If cherubs are connected to Torah, affixed to the top of the Holy Ark, hovering over the Torah, and are manufactured of one solid chunk of beaten gold together with the ark cover, those cherubs become children with angelic faces.

However, if parents, who were given only one simple mitzvah, not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, defy G-d, those children will become angels of destruction and will prevent their parents from entering in to the Garden of Eden, and stop them from achieving their Nirvana, fulfillment.

Raising children connected to Torah is not easy, it must be done in purity, just like gold which appears in nature in a pure state. They also must be מִקְשָׁה זָהָב , beaten gold, during which much effort and energy is invested in their nurturing and education. It doesn’t just happen by osmosis!

Most important of all is the example and model provided by parents. Children are profoundly influenced by the models they see. The secret of successful parenting is the effort that parents invest to serve as a favorable model for their children.

May you be blessed.