Make two cherubim of gold…at the two ends of the cover… Make one cherub at one end and the other cherub at the other end…The cherubim shall have their wings spread out above, shielding the cover with their wings. They shall face each other, the faces of the cherubim being turned toward the cover. Place the cover on top of the Ark, after depositing inside the Ark the Pact that I will give you. There I will meet with you, and I will impart [speak] to you — from above the cover, from between the two cherubim that are on top of the Ark of the Pact — all that I will command you concerning the Israelite people. (Shemot 25: 18 – 22)
soft and gentle,
receive each other
face to face,
wings spread forth
And from that loving space
God’s voice is heard.
In a commentary on Parashat Teruma from 2003, http://ziegler.aju.edu/Default.aspx?id=5360, Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson examines the significance of the cherubs. This commandment appears to violate the injunction against making graven images. He notes that cherubim were actually familiar images in the Ancient Near East. He says, “The Akkadian word ‘kuribu,’ originally meaning “to pray,” was used to describe creatures which were part human, part beast, and part bird. At pagan temples, statues and portraits of these cherubim would guard the entrance and petition the deities on behalf of the worshipers.” He notes that their presence in the Tabernacle perplexes the Rabbis throughout the generations. Rashi teaches that when Moses entered the Tabernacle to speak to God, a voice fell from Heaven to the place on the cover [of the ark] which was between the cherubs…”
Rashbam, Rashi’s grandson, cites the Talmud saying that these cherubs had faces like children (ke-rabbiya). Rabbi Artson suggests that they might symbolize “a purity, goodness and trust of the world found primarily in young children.”
In a blogpost from 2014, http://parshathoughtsmore.blogspot.co.il/2014/01/parashat-terumah-where-god-dwells.html, Dr Rachel Anisfeld observes that this parasha contains the instruction, “Ve’asu li mikdash veshachanti betocham – Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” (Shemot 25:8)
So she suggests that we are being directed to a way to draw God down to dwell among us. She notes that God’s voice would emanate from between this pair of child-like cherubs who faced each other and whose wings were stretched out creating a shelter – and she notes that the phrase for this position of their wings “sochechim bechanfeihem – shielding… with their wings” employs the same root as “sukkah” which denotes shelter.
So Dr Anisfeld asks, “Where does God dwell?” and responds, “He dwells in the places where we can turn to each other with the innocence and pure-heartedness of children, really deeply turn to each other, like a child before she is covered over by social concerns and self-consciousness. See each other in this deep, pure, whole-hearted way and create together a space of shelter, a container of love.
“God dwells in the containers of love that we create together. God is both the container, the One who holds us in love and shelter – who is Himself “pores sukkat shalom aleinu – spreading a sukkah of peace over us” – and also the One who is held by our container, by our love. He enters into the spaces where we create such containers, and Himself provides such a container, such a feeling of protection and love, for us to dwell in.”
In her book Kitchen Table Wisdom, Dr Rachel Naomi Remen is perhaps hinting at this creation of shelter when she talks about listening. She says, “Listening is the oldest and perhaps the most powerful tool of healing. It is often through the quality of our listening and not the wisdom of our words that we are able to effect the most profound changes in the people around us. When we listen, we offer with our attention an opportunity for wholeness. Our listening creates sanctuary for the homeless parts within the other person. That which has been denied, unloved, devalued by themselves and others. That which is hidden.”
She continues, “In this culture the soul and the heart too often go homeless. Listening creates a holy silence. When you listen generously to people, they can hear the truth in themselves, often for the first time. And in the silence of listening, you can know yourself in everyone. Eventually you may be able to hear, in everyone and beyond everyone, the unseen singing softly to itself and to you.”