Terumah 5777

Four Golden Children[1]

ועשית שנים כרבים זהב מקשה תעשה אתם משני קצות הכפרת
You shall make two golden Cherubs; you shall make them beaten out [of a solid piece of gold] from the two sides of the ark lid[2]

The Ark of the Covenant is a well-known part of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. It contained the tablets from the Ten Commandments[3], and represents the Torah as a whole. It signified the bond between the Jewish people and Hashem, forged by the acceptance of the Torah. On top of the lid of the ark stood two golden angels, known as Keruvim, or Cherubs. There is a lot written on the significance of these Keruvim, what their purpose was and what they represented. The Torah says explicitly[4] that Hashem’s voice to Moshe emanated from the point between the two Keruvim. They were tremendously important to the prophecy which Moshe transmitted to the Jewish people.

Chazal tell us[5] that the word Keruvim is related to the word כרביא, “like children”. This teaches us the Keruvim had the faces of children. The book of Kings also teaches us[6] that when King Shlomo built the Temple, in addition to the Ark and its two Keruvim, he made two more Keruvim. These ones were much taller and stood on the floor, as opposed to being part of the lid of the Ark. Both of these details, the Keruvim having the faces of children and Shlomo making two slightly different ones, must have a deeper significance.

In addition to representing the Torah, the Ark represented Hashem’s relationship with the Jews, as well as their daily religious activities[7]. Chazal tell us that one of the Keruvim represented the Jews, and the other Hashem. When the relationship between the two was doing well, the Keruvim faced each other[8]. When the relationship was failing, the Keruvim miraculously moved to face apart from each other[9].

While the Jews were in the wilderness, they didn’t have to work for their livelihood. All of their sustenance was provided directly by Hashem. Their food came from the munn, and their water from the miraculous well. They were like children who rely on their parents for sustenance. This allowed the Jews to concentrate solely on their devotion and worship of Hashem. This is why the Keruvim on the lid of the Ark had the faces of children, and were part of the lid itself. It was to represent the Jews’ unwavering relationship with Hashem, who provided all of their needs like they were children.

This is unlike the Jews during the generation of King Shlomo. By then they had firmly settled in the land of Israel. They were no longer being fed miraculous food from heaven; they had to work hard for their sustenance. At the same time, they had to maintain their devotion to Hashem, keeping their focus on the relationship and not to get distracted by their labor. This was represented by the tall Keruvim on the ground. At that period the Jews were more like adults, taking care of their own needs. They had the freedom to veer from their objective, or to stay on-course. However, these Keruvim still had the faces of children. This was to inform the Jews that even though they are now working for their sustenance, they shouldn’t make that the focus of their lives. Torah and mitzvos should still be their objective. They also shouldn’t think that their efforts are the exclusive source of their sustenance. They should remember that everything still comes from Hashem, and despite their newfound independence, they are still like children being sustained by their parents.

Every aspect of the Mishkan contained tremendous wisdom. There are several parshiyos devoted to the description and construction of the Mishkan. It can seem tedious, unnecessary and irrelevant. However, every detail contained incredible lessons for our everyday lives. We need only look for them.

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Be’er Yosef to Exodus 25:18-20

[2] Exodus 25:18

[3] Ibid verses 16 and 21 command the Jews to place the “testimony” inside the Ark, Rashi ad. loc. says this means the Torah. There’s a disagreement cited in Sifsei Chachamim if Rashi means a Torah scroll, or the Ten Commandments. There’s actually a discussion in Bava Basra 14a about this, and everyone agrees that the Ten Commandments were placed in the ark (see I Kings 8:9). There’s a disagreement if a Torah scroll was placed inside as well, or next to the Ark (see Deuteronomy 31:26)

[4] Exodus 25:22

[5] Chagigah 13b; Sukkah 5b

[6] I Kings 6:23-28

[7] See Nefesh HaChaim 1:8 for an in-depth discussion on this topic

[8] Bava Basra 99a; see Exodus 25:20

[9] II Chronicles 3:13