From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
Will We Be Like the Cherubs above the Ark of Testimony, Like Pure and Innocent Children, Or Like The Destructive Angels Guarding Gan Eden?
This Shabbat, Parashat Terumah, we shall read the donations that the Bnei Yisrael gave to the construction of the Mishkan and its artefacts. The donations included gold, silver, copper, sky-blue [wool], dark red [wool], [wool dyed with] crimson worm, linen, goats’ wool, reddened rams’ skins, blue-processed skins, acacia wood, (see Shemot 25:1-5). With it they constructed the Ark of Testimony which was made of acacia wood covered in gold. It had a golden cover with two golden cherubs, which stood at the two ends of the cover. The cherubs had wings which spread upward so that their wings shield the cover and they faced one another. From here Hashem spoke with Moshe Rabbeinu as the passuk states, “I will commune with you there, speaking to you from above the ark-cover, from between the two cherubs that are on the Ark of Testimony. [In this manner] I will give you instruction for the Bnei Yisrael.” (ibid 25:22).
How did the cherubs appear on the cover?
Rashi explains, “The cherubs – they had the form of a young child”, meaning the form of a child, which depicts something pure and innocent.
On the other hand, in Parashat Bereishit after Adam sinned and ate from the tree of knowledge, the Torah states, “He drove away Adam, and stationed the cherubs at Gan Eden, along with the revolving sword blade, to guard the path of the Tree of Life” (Bereishit 3:24). From here we learn that Hashem placed cherubs with a rotating sword to guard Gan Eden.
Who were the cherubs who guarded the entrance to Gan Eden?
Rashi explains, “The cherubs – destructive angels”.
So we must understand what exactly are cherubs? Are they in the image of a child as Rashi explains in Parashat Terumah, or perhaps they are destructive angels, as Rashi explains in Parashat Bereishit?
In order to fathom this we must preface the following story that happened in a European zoo. Signs were placed, “Danger! You are entering a place where the world’s most dangerous wild animals roam!”
Special precautions were made upon entry that two double iron gates operated whereby only after one closed the other opened thus preventing any dangerous animals from escaping. Upon passing the two gates, a person entered an empty hall all alone, where only one person at a time entered. At the entrance was a huge sign, “Danger! You are entering a place where the world’s most dangerous wild animals roam!” When the person entered that hall, he saw a large mirror opposite himself, and so he saw himself, and there was an arrow pointing to him, upon which was the word, “You!!!”.
In other words, “You, man, are the most dangerous wild animal in the world.”
The message is clear. Without a person working on their behaviour and character traits, such as haughtiness, anger, jealousy and hatred, then he is capable of being the most dangerous wild animal in the world. As the passuk states, “Let one who is [like] a wild ass be reborn as a man!” (Eyov 11:12). In contrast to this, a person who studies Torah and fulfils mitzvot whilst perfecting himself with virtues such as humility, derech eretz, love, amity, shalom and friendship, is capable of being Hashem’s prize creature in His world.
This is the message in the word “cherubs”. When they are standing on the Ark of Testimony in which the Ten Commandments are placed, they are like a pure and holy child. But “cherubs”, without Torah and mitzvot, they are capable of being destructive angels.
May we all make the effort to be constantly connected to the Torah, to prayer, to mitzvot and good deeds. And may we merit to be like those cherubs, which were placed upon the covering and the Ark of Testimony from where the Shechinah spoke with Moshe Rabbeinu a”h.