Shabbat shalom. Today’s parsha is parshat Trumah from the book of Exodus or Shmot. The Israelites have just been freed from Egypt and are currently wandering in the desert to the Promised Land.  Moses is leading them, and in last week’s Parsha he went up to G-d to receive the Ten Commandments. In parshat Trumah, G-d says to Moses:  “Make for me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” Among the instructions for building the Mishkan or sanctuary include, the making of the ark for the luchot, tablets, the menorah, parochet, veil, and the mizbayach, or altar. While the Israelites were wandering in the desert, the Mishkan was to be used as a portable place of worship.

 

When I first read parshat Trumah, what really interested me were the cherubim above the ark.  The cherubim are winged figures that were a part of the cover.  The parshat says very little about the appearance of the cherubim.  In psukim 25; 17-25:20, it says:  “You shall make a cover of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. Make two cherubim of gold -- make them of hammered work -- at the two ends of the cover. Make one cherub at one end and the other cherub at the other end; of one piece with the cover shall you make the cherubim at its two ends. The cherubim shall have their wings spread out above, shielding the cover with their wings. They shall confront each other, their faces turned towards the ark.” 

 

Just about the only thing we get from this description is that they had wings and faces.  Many Rabbis imagined that they had the faces of children.  Rashi mentioned this. The Gemara explains that in Aramaic, the word for child is “Rabia.” The Hebrew word for cherubim is “Kruvim.” If you break this word down, you get the “ke,” which means like, and the “Rabia,” which means “child.” Although it may sound like a stretch between “krabia” and “kruvim,” there are many reasons for G-d to want child-like figures above the ark.

 

When I was thinking about symbolic reasons, my first idea came from the fact that the cherubim are located directly above the luchot or tablets.  This made me think that since children are the next generation, then they must understand the Torah to be able to keep our traditions alive.  Rabbi Yosef Ber of Brisk seems to agree with this, as he says:  “The cherubim were made with the faces of small children, one boy, one girl.  From this we learn that providing the proper Jewish education, even for our small children is a basic principle necessary for keeping the Torah.”  What he seems to be saying is that, just as the cherubim are guarding the important contents of the ark, educated Jewish children are guarding the knowledge of our traditions. This is something very important to my family, and therefore I go to a Jewish day school and to synagogue every weekend. Having this Jewish education enables me to pass the Torah on to my children.

 

Rav Simcha Zissel has a different view on the subject of children’s face. He believes, that to be a truly learned individual, you must understand that you have as little knowledge of Torah as a young child.  He also points out that a Torah scholar is a Talmid Chacham, which means a student of wisdom.  The Torah always has more questions and complications.  Placing children – like -- cherubim above the Torah represents that we are all like children when it comes to Torah knowledge. Is this saying that no one will ever really understand the entire Torah?  To me, it is saying precisely that.  If we understood everything that the Torah had to teach us, than we would stop learning and studying it.

 

The cherubim are not necessarily children, though.  One cherub might have represented all the people of Israel, while the other represented G-d.  The Talmud refers to these cherubim as a balance, a way to measure how well we are obeying G-d’s commandments. The Talmud suggests that when the Jews were obeying G-d. the cherubim would face towards each other.  But when they disobeyed G-d. the cherubim would face away.  Nowadays, we could really use something like this.  For example, with the kashrut laws, we only know the rabbis’ interpretation of them.  We don’t know if they are what G-d actually meant. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could simply look at the cherubim and see if we were doing things correctly?  Or would it be bad?  Maybe G-d meant for the laws to be followed in the way that we interpret them. They would be more personal this way.  In my opinion, we do have something like the cherubim balances.  It is our conscience.  It tells us when we are doing something wrong, and makes us feel good when we know we did something well.

           

Although we are not sure about the faces of the cherubim being children, we do know that they had wings, knafaim.  The Torah saying that the cherubim had wings reminded me of something G-d told the Jews, that he would take them on eagles’ wings to the Promised Land.  Perhaps the cherubim’s wings reminded the Israelites of the time of this promise. It would be interesting, though, if the wings were on children.  This may have been a clue to the Israelites that they would not be the ones to enter the land of Israel.  It would be their children and the generations to come. 

 

It is fascinating that G-d gave the cherubim wings rather than weapons to guard the ark. The ark contained the only copy of the laws and teachings G-d gave us.  You would think that G-d would want something powerful to guard a treasure as important as the luchot, but all he uses are wings.  Wings can symbolize peace and new life, as in the doves’ wings from Noah’s ark, while weapons only represent death and destruction.  What G-d may be trying to tell us is that he wants his teachings guarded by new life rather than death.  Today, there are those who try using weapons without much success.  G-d used peace, and it was much more effective.  Maybe it is time that we try following G-d’s lead and begin to guard with wings.

 

As it is my Bat-Mitzvah, and I am being given the responsibility of guarding the traditions, I wondered if it was possible, that the cherubim, these two winged figures, held any secrets for success. Going back to the four psukim that mention the cherubim, I found hidden four of the most important lessons for life.  One, educate your children.  It will be the cherub in your life, your child, who will keep the traditions alive. Two, never stop studying:  always understand that you are like a child in the eyes of the Torah.  Three, listen to the balance of your conscience.  It may not give you as clear a message as two cherubim facing away from each other, but it is the best we have. Four, use wings, not weapons, to protect the most valuable things in life.  The cherubim seem to be telling us that, if we follow at least these four guiding principles, then even if we are wandering, in the difficulties of the desert, the future of Judaism will be in good hands. Thank you and Shabbat Shalom.