The gaze of the Cherubim

Did the cherubim gaze at one another or at the Ark? A profound idea can be learned from the answer to that question

Rabbi Moshe Kempinski ,

Moshe Kempinski
Moshe Kempinski

Parshat Terumah Exodus 25:1-27:19

Hashem tells Moshe to build an Aron Hakodesh (an Ark of Holiness) ;

And you shall make an ark cover of pure gold, two and a half cubits its length and a cubit and a half its width.And you shall make two golden KERUVIM (cherubim); you shall make them of hammered work, from the two ends of the ark cover.(Exodus 25:17-18)

These Keruvim were a depiction of angels that we read about in the book of Ezekiel

"And the Keruvim (cherubim) were lifted up. This was the living creature I saw by the River Chebar. When the Keruvim went, the wheels went beside them; and when the Keruvim lifted their wings to mount up from the earth, the same wheels also did not turn from beside them. When the Keruvim stood still, the wheels stood still, and when one was lifted up, the other lifted itself up, for the spirit of the living creature was in them. Then the glory of the LORD departed from the threshold of the temple and stood over the Keruvim .( Ezekiel 10:15)

Our sages attempt to understand what these two Keruvim on the ark looked like. Some, based on a breakdown of the word Keruvim , see them as an adult and a child, others as a husband and wife and others as children. In all these cases they are metaphors of affection, as between father and son , between husband and wife or between simple childhood friends.

It is that metaphor of affection that we see placed over the Holy Ark.

ארון הברית
צילום: ISTOCK

Photo: One opinion on how the cherubim looked.

And it is there is much more, as we see further in the description of the Ark;

Hashem says: “I will arrange My meetings with you there, and I will speak with you from atop the ark cover from between the two cherubim that are upon the Ark of the Testimony, all that I will command you unto the children of Israel.”(Exodus 25:22)

That is to say that Hashem will reveal and “speak” to His people from amidst “the affection” resting between those two Keruvim. ”And I will speak with you from atop the ark cover from between the two cherubim that are upon the Ark of the Testimony”

Furthermore we read that “the Keruvim (cherubim) shall have their wings spread upwards, shielding the ark cover with their wings, with their faces toward one another; turned toward the ark cover shall be the faces of the Keruvim.(Exodus 25:29)

On the one hand “The Keruvim (cherubim) shall have their wings spread upwards,” as an act of prayer . On the other the wings achieved something else as well as they were “shielding the ark cover with their wings”. The Ark of the Covenant that held the tablets of Torah were being protected by these keruvim, beings that represented mutual affection and love.

This in essence represented an example and metaphor for all of Hashem’s people and creations and their responsibility to love each other and to protect and love Hashem’s Torah.

Yet we need to understand another piece of the puzzle. The verse tells us “…with their faces toward one another; turned toward the ark cover shall be the faces of the Keruvim." (Shot/ Exodus25:29).

So were the faces of the Keruvim turned "toward one another" or were they "turned toward the ark" ?

Perhaps this may be teaching us a deep secret of love and affection.

The reason that the Keruvim were able to gaze at each other so affectionately is because each of them saw the other through the reflection of the golden cover of the Ark. Rather than looking at each other directly, they saw each other through the prism of Hashem’s Torah.

It is with that vision that they were able to truly love one another. That is a powerful; lesson for us all.

Lerefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved and Alter Mordechai ben Freda

Rabbi Moshe Kempinski, author of "The Teacher and the Preacher", is the editor of the Jerusalem Insights weekly email journal and co-owner of Shorashim, a Biblical shop and learning center in the Old City of Jerusalem, www,