Toward the Cover shall be the faces of the Cherubim

מרן הגאב"ד שליט"א
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אל הכפורת יהיו פני הכרובים[1]


ויעש שני כרבים זהב מקשה עשה אתם משני קצות הכפרת. כרוב אחד מקצה מזה וכרוב אחד מקצה מזה מן הכפרת עשה את הכרבים משני קצותיו. ויהיו הכרבים פרשי כנפים למעלה סככים בכנפיהם על הכפרת ופניהם איש אל אחיו אל הכפרת היו פני הכרבים.[2]

            He made two Cherubim of gold - hammered out did he make them – from the two ends pf the Cover: one Cherub from the end at one side and one Cherub from the end at the other; from the Cover did he make the Cherubim, from its two ends.  The Cherubim were with wings spread upward sheltering the Cover with their wings, with their faces toward one another; toward the Cover were the faces of the Cherubim.

            The Kli Yakar writes[3],

The two Cherubim were in the image of angels who were called Cherubim, and in the image of young children to teach that if a teacher of Torah resembles an angel of G-d, free of sin like a child in his first year, then “people should seek to learn Torah from his mouth.”[4]  He must be unblemished in G-d’s eyes as well as man’s, just like the Cherubim that spread their wings heavenward to demonstrate that they were fulfilling their duty to Heaven and they faced each other to demonstrate that they were fulfilling their duty to the people.  [Their facing each other] also symbolizes the peace granted to those who love Torah, united in peace and friendship.  The passuk says “toward the Cover shall be the faces of the Cherubim” to indicate that their whole focus was directed toward the Torah inside the Ark, unlike those who are wise in their own eyes and seek honor for themselves rather than for the Torah.

“It is there that I will set My meetings with you” because G-d has no place in His world except in the four Amos of Halachah and in a place where peace is found, for there, learning to antagonize others doesn’t exist.  From there the voice of G-d would spread throughout the Sanctuary, as Rashi explains in Bamidbar[5], for the Ark was the sustaining force of all the sanctified vessels, and through it G-d’s emanations descended upon them all.  We find that the Ark carried those who carried it, and this alludes to those who support Torah scholars—they appear to be supporting the Torah, but in truth they are the ones being supported by the Torah.

            The image of the Cherubim was both like an angel and a day-old baby[6].  The Cherubim were situated atop the cover of the Ark in which the Tablets were housed, which in turn was situated inside the Holy of Holies,  a place which even the ministering angels were forbidden to enter[7].  This was the location of the Cherubim, the holiest place in the world!  This is to teach us that it is incumbent on Bnei Yisrael to soar to lofty heights like the angels, and be unblemished and pure like a day-old baby who has not yet tasted sin; only when a person conducts himself as such will others come to seek Torah from him.  As we see the Cherubim were situated atop the cover of the Ark, guarding the [8]דרך עץ חיים, the path to the Torah within.

            Another lesson is gleaned from the Cherubim.  Man’s work in perfecting himself has two aspects: between man and G-d and between man and his fellow man.

 The wings of the Cherubim were spread heavenward, representing that man must subjugate himself to G-d in Heaven.  The Mishna[9] says,

[The Torah relates:]”And it happened that when Moshe raised his hand Israel was stronger, and when he lowered his hand Amalek was stronger.” But do Moshe’s hands win a battle or lose a battle?! Certainly not! Rather the verse comes to tell you: so long as Israel gazed upward and subjugated their heart to their Father in Heaven, they would prevail.  But if not, they would fall.  And you may say a similar thing with regard to the following verse: [Hashem said to Moshe:] “Make yourself a fiery [serpent] and place it on a pole, and it will be that anyone who is bitten will look at it and live.”  But does a serpent kill or does a serpent restore life?!  Certainly not!  Rather, when Israel gazed upward and subjugated their heart to their Father in Heaven, they were healed.  But if not, they perished.

Additionally, the Cherubim faced each other.  This represents the other aspect, the mitzvos between man and his fellow man, without which man cannot attain holiness.  The Ramban writes[10] with regard to the Tablets that one contained מצות בין אדם למקום, mitzvos between man and G-d, and the other contained מצות בין אדם לחברו, mitzvos between man and his fellow man.  Rashi writes[11] on the passuk"ויתן ה' אלי את שני לוחת האבנים", and Hashem gave me the two stone Tablets, that the word לוחת, Tablets, is written חסר, without the (second) letter ו', to teach us that the Two Tablets, the one pertaining to mitzvos between man and G-d and the one pertaining to mitzvos between man and his fellow man are equal.  "אנכי ה' אלקיך", I am the Lord your G-d, bears the same weight as לא תגנב, You shall not steal.  The two are equal and necessary components for man’s perfection, and there is no point to the one if the other is lacking.

            Rav Yisrael Salanter expounds that when Moshe Rabbeinu saw the Golden Calf he wanted to break only the one Tablet that containedה' אלקיך"  "אנכי I am the Lord your G-d,  and "לא יהיה לך אלקים אחרים על פני", you shall not have any other gods before Me.  The other Tablet, the one with mitzvos between man and his fellow man, he saw no need to break.  He reasoned he could give that one to Bnei Yisrael, since their sin with the Golden Calf did not hinder their mitzvos of בין אדם לחברו.  But G-d told him that the Torah is one and the Two Tablets were bound to each other and cannot be separated.

            Just like the passuk concerning the Cherubim states "פרשי כנפים למעלה...ופניהם איש אל אחיו", wings spread upward… their faces toward one another, so too we find with regard to ברכת כהנים, the priestly blessing.  When the Kohanim bless the congregation, their hands are spread out and they face the people.  Perhaps we can say that the reason for this is the same as with the Cherubim.  In order to bestow this blessing, the action must portray completeness.  This completeness is achieved by these two aspects, by spreading their hands—subjugating their heart to their Father in Heaven—and by facing the people—to bless His People Israel with love.[12]

[1] שמות כ"ה: כ'

[2] שמות ל"ז: ז'-ט'

[3] כלי יקר שמות כ"ה: י"ז

[4] מלאכי ב': ז'

[5] במדבר ז': פ"ט

[6] סוכה ה' ע"ב, בבא בתרא צ"ט ע"א

[7] ירושלמי יומא ז' ע"ב, סוכה כ"א ע"ב

[8] See בראשית ג': כ"ד He stationed at the east of the Garden of Eden the Cherubim and the frame of the ever-turning sword, to guard the way to the Tree of Life.  See also אבן עזרא’s commentary, who says that those Cherubim at the entrance to the Garden of Eden were also fashioned liked youths.

[9] ראש השנה כ"ט ע"א

[10] שמות כ': י"ב-י"ד

[11] דברים ט': י'

[12] ברכת כהנים