Friday, 18 March 2016

The Keruvim

Keruvim on the aron
The Keruvim are two winged creatures that appear in parshat Terumah as part of the Mishkan. There are two golden Keruvim on the cover of the Aron, and there are also Keruvim stiched into the 10 yeriot, the walls of the Mishkan.

The Problem

Keruvim on the aron and the yeriot
But isn't it strange that, right after receiving the 10 commandments and hearing the prohibition against idols and images, the Mishkan is build with two idols at it's very heart?

לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה לְךָ פֶסֶל וְכָל תְּמוּנָה אֲשֶׁר בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל וַאֲשֶׁר בָּאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת וַאֲשֶׁר בַּמַּיִם מִתַּחַת לָאָרֶץ.

Similarly, isn't it strange that, right after thousands are killed for the sin of the golden calf, we are instructed to build a mishkan with two golden images. 

Even more disturbing is the fact that Ezekiel implies that the Keruv is a winged Ox-like creature.

יחזקאל תיאר את ה"מרכבה" בצורה מפורטת יותר. בחזונו היו חיות המרכבה ארבע במספר – אחד של אריה, אחד של שור, אחד של נשר ואחד של אדם, ותכונותיהם המשותפות: גוף וידי אדם, רגלי פרסה של העגל וכנפיים. בתיאור אחר של החזון, מוחלפים פני השור בפני כרוב, ומכאן היו שהבינו שלכרוב צורה של שור.(מקור)
Kirubu at the Louvre
Finally, there is the observation that Keruvim sound mighty similar to  the "Kirubu" or Assyrian winged Ox type deity.

What all of these questions have in common is that the Keruvim seem a highly inappropriate choice to decorate the Mishkan and the Holy of Holies.

The First Keruvim

To understand the significance of the Keruvim in the Mishkan, let's go back to the first place they appear in the Torah, to the story of the Garden of Eden.
  "וַיְגָרֶשׁ, אֶת-הָאָדָם; וַיַּשְׁכֵּן מִקֶּדֶם לְגַן-עֵדֶן אֶת-הַכְּרֻבִים, וְאֵת לַהַט הַחֶרֶב הַמִּתְהַפֶּכֶת, לִשְׁמֹר, אֶת-דֶּרֶךְ עֵץ הַחַיִּים"
בראשית, ג', כ"ד
When Man sins and is expelled, the Keruvim are the guardians of the path to Gan Eden. What is their message in this context?

Mankind has an innate desire for Paradise. This desire has taken many forms over the ages, from ascetics that attempt to gain Paradise by withdrawing from this world, to warrior cultures who seek to attain Valhalla through their battle prowess, to secular Utopian movements who seek to build the perfect society through technology. Yet Paradise remains ever distant, obscure, ever unreachable.

The Keruvim of the Mishkan

The Mishkan addresses this basic Human desire with it's own Keruvim, as if to say, "Here lies the path to Paradise". The Torah redeems our innate desire for Paradise by directing it towards the Torah spoken to Moshe from between the Keruvim. One who desires Paradise should learn the Torah and uphold the covenant, symbolized by the Luchot Habrit contained within the Aron, supporting the Keruvim. In this way we may elevate Mankind and walk the path back to Eden.

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