Childhood in Our Souls

The Cherubim are symbols of things we can learn from childhood.

Tags: Ark
Rabbanit Shira Smiles

Judaism Young women study Torah
Young women study Torah
Flash 90

One of the classical images symbolic of Torah philosophy is the image of the Cherubim, young angels, atop the Holy Ark. The Torah describes these figures as facing one another and also facing the Cover of the Ark, and having wings spreading upward. From between these Cherubim the voice of God will emanate when He speaks to Bnei Yisroel. According to tradition, the Cherubim had childlike faces and, the Zohar adds that they were male and female. They represented a barometer of the Jews' sensitivity to each other that was then reflected in the position of the Cherubim as representative of Hashem.

When there was harmony, the Cherubim faced each other and God’s presence rested comfortably between them, but when there was disunity, they turned away from each other and Hashem was displeased.

 Why did Hashem choose to have the Cherubim depicted this way?  The Divrei Yisroel of Modzitz writes that the Cherubim represent the youth of the nation while the wings above them represent the elders. For the youth to grow properly, they must be under the protection and influence of the elders. In an inverse perspective, Rabbi Schrage Grosbard notes that a child naturally has faith in his parents and in adults, as a child who asks any adult to help him cross the street.

Rabbi Shimshon Pincus then asks what the difference is between emunah and bitachon, both often translated as faith but actually emunah is faith while bitachon implies security. Although not the same, Rabbi Pincus notes that they are clearly interrelated. Bitachon, security, is the practical application of emunah. It comes with the clarity of one’s faith that is achieved through Torah learning and prayer. The Cherubim were atop the Ark within the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. The Ark, within which were housed the Luchot, the Tablets of the Law, represented Torah, while the Aron itself was within the Mishkan where Moses and the Israelites, Bnei Yisrael, would offer their prayers. We still have the tools of Torah and prayer to strengthen the pure childlike faith and trust that still resides within the souls that represent the Cherubim within us.

In Vayomer Yehudah offers us the image of the Cherubim as seeds planted atop the fertile Aron. Drawing their strength from the Torah within, they grow pure and golden as the earth into which they were planted, as the covering of the Ark. The seeds and the soil need to be right. Besides nurturing love, attention, and role modeling, a child needs the proper environment in which to grow, notes the Chinuch Malchuti. Even as adults, we do not outgrow the influence of our environment, writes Rabbi Mattisyahu Salomon  in With Hearts Full of Faith. While one should avoid living in a spiritually and morally unhealthy environment, one may avoid its damaging influence by maintaining close contact with associates and friends in the Torah community so that he will continue to feel out of place in this negative society and will not adopt their practices and personae. This grooming must start in childhood, so that our children develop a natural attachment and sensitivity toward each other, writes Rabbi Roberts in Through the Prism of Torah. Like the Cherubim, they should continue to look toward each other as one soul to its kindred soul even as the wings face upwards 

Pirkei Avot delineates 48 paths to acquiring Torah. Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz notes that many of these paths involve proper interaction with other people. Looking at each other, as the Cherubim were doing, is looking at the Torah and doing Hashem’s will.

Taking a different approach but arriving at the same conclusion is Rabbi Avraham Schorr in Halekach Vehalebuv. Beginning with the fact the Parshat Terumah is always read around the month of Adar, he connects the timing with its corresponding tribe and with its zodiac sign. Adar, the last month of the year, corresponds to the tribe of Naftali, the last tribe in the order of travel of the encampments in the desert and the last tribal prince to bring his offering at the dedication of the Mishkan. How are all these ideas connected?

First, Rabbi Schorr comments that the reason this prince was the last to bring his offering was that he looked at everyone with a generous eye and graciously let all the other princes bring their offerings ahead of him. His very name alludes to his character – Achira ben Einan, the son of the [good] Eye. Similarly, the Zodiac sign of the month of Adar is Fish, upon whom no evil eye can prevail. And the Zodiac sign appears not as a single fish, dag, but as a pair of fish, dagim, two fish who, although different, can still look at each other and live together in peace. Their depiction on the Aron testifies to their relationship, continues Rabbi Schorr: “Peneihem ish el achiv – Their faces facing each other,” The final letters forming an anagram for Shal-o-m.

Our mission is to constantly grow, to reach upward like the wings of the Cherubim. Our mission is to constantly grow, like children, but the goals must evolve and mature, writes Rabbi Igbui in Chochmat Hanmatzpun. We must model ourselves on the constant thirst for knowledge that children are innately born with, writes Rabbi Roberts. Just as Yehoshua, Moshe’s successor who is called a na’ar even though he was already middle aged, and as Yaakov Avinu himself who is called a yoshev oholim, one who sits in tents, going from one tent to the other, not content with the learning he mastered in one “school”, but seeking further wisdom, always in search of further growth, so must we too always strive for spiritual growth.

This quest for continual spiritual growth was a hallmark of Jacob, Yaakov Avinu. As Rabbi Frand notes, Yaakov dreamed of a ladder standing on earth but its top in the heavens. The ladder is symbolic of life. One must either go up or down, but one cannot remain in the same place.

Yet another insight into the character of children is cited by Rabbi Meizlish in his Sichot. Children tend to be happy with whatever they have, not realizing that there is more or wanting any more. (The pots and pans in Mom’s pantry or an empty shipping carton from the supermarket offer at least as much fun as expensive gifts.) Unfortunately, society, life, or school often squelch this innate wonder and joy. The Cherubim teach us to retain this childlike innocence and joy, for it is only through the joy of one satisfied with himself that the voice of Hashem can emanate.

From the very materials that were used in the construction of the Mishkan and later the Beit Hamikdosh one can derive many lessons. There were keroshim, boards crafted from Shitim, acacia wood, writes Rabbi Brazile in Bishvili Nivra Haolam. One can see in these words the root letters of Sheker and Shtut, falsehood and foolishness. However, when one entered the Beit Hamikdosh, one entered the Beit Habechirah, the House of Choosing, (not the Beit Hanivchar, the House already Chosen) where he could choose to overcome the falsehoods and foolishness of this world.

He could observe the wings of the Cherubim over their heads, forming two three-pronged letter shins to rise above sheker and shetut and together create sos, joy, a place where joy reigned, where they understood their mission and saw with clarity how their entire beings, possessions and attributes were perfectly suited for this mission.

The Beit Hamikdosh with the Cherubim are no longer with us, but we can all still strive to retain the Cherubim within ourselves, the purity and eagerness of childhood, the desire for knowledge of Torah and spiritual growth, the sensitivity to each other, and the traditions of our elders so that our souls are joyous and an appropriate place for God’s presence to reside within us.