Adorable Children or Angels of Destruction?

V’asisa shnayim Keruvim zahav mikshah ta’aseh osam mi’shnei ketzos ha’kapores (Shemos 25:18)

Hashem commanded Moshe to make two Cherubim on top of the Holy Ark in the Mishkan, one on each end. Rashi explains that they had the faces of small children. However, this imagery is difficult to reconcile with an earlier comment made by Rashi.

In Parashas Bereishis, after the sin of eating from the forbidden fruit, Hashem exiled Adam and Chavah from the Garden of Eden. In order to ensure that they wouldn’t attempt reentry, the Torah relates (Bereishis 3:24) that Hashem placed Cherubim wielding fiery swords at the gate. Rashi explains that these Cherubim were angels of destruction. If so, how could Rashi simultaneously maintain that the Cherubim mentioned in our parashah had the appearance of infants, the paragons of innocence and purity?

The following amusing story will help us appreciate the answer to our question.

One year, on the first day of classes, an elementary Hebrew-school teacher wanted to assess the background and skills of the children in her new class. She began by asking, “Who knows the translation of ‘Baruch Atah Hashem’?” Every hand went up, and the student upon whom she called correctly answered, “Blessed are You, Hashem.” The teacher then asked, “Who knows the translation of ‘Shema Yisrael’?” Most of the hands went up again, and she called on a student who properly responded, “Hear, O Israel.”

Satisfied and impressed with their knowledge, the teacher asked one more question. “Who knows the translation of ‘Amen’?” This time, she was met with bewildered expressions. Only one hand went up. The teacher called on the student, who proudly declared, “I know that one. It’s easy. The translation of ‘Amen’ is ‘Cong’!”

After getting over her initial confusion, the teacher couldn’t help but chuckle to herself when she realized the student’s innocent mistake. The word “Cong” is short for “Congregation” and is often printed in the Siddur next to the word “Amen” to indicate that at this point the congregation should respond “Amen,” which led the student to erroneously assume that this was the translation of the word.

In light of this entertaining anecdote about the innocence of children, we can appreciate the answer given to our original question by Harav Yechiel Michel Epstein, the author of Aruch Hashulchan. Harav Epstein suggests that the resolution of the apparent contradiction about the appearance of the Cherubim lies in the fact that our parashah is discussing the Cherubim in the Mishkan, where they were placed on top of the Aron.

By attaching them to the Ark and the Torah scroll and Tablets contained therein, they remained wholesome cherubs resembling innocent babies, as was demonstrated by the story involving the naïve schoolchild. However, the moment children become separated from a Torah environment, they have the potential to lose their innocence and become transformed into forces which inspire fear and trepidation. Although the lesson is taught in a light-hearted manner, the underlying message about priorities in educating our children is one from which we all can learn.

Parashah Q & A

Q: Why is Parashas Mishpatim, which contains the Torah’s code of civil law, juxtaposed to Parashas Terumah, which discusses the Mishkan and its utensils?

Q: As gold is more precious and valuable than wood, why was the Aron made of wood instead of gold like its coverings (25:10–11), which would seem to give more honor to the Torah housed therein?

A: The Beis Halevi explains that the Torah juxtaposes the portions to teach that before one can donate to a holy cause such as the Mishkan, he must first make sure that the money is “kosher gelt,” which can only be determined after studying the Torah’s civil law. Harav Zalman Sorotzkin, zt”l, suggests that after the Jews heard the laws in Parashas Mishpatim, they wanted to return to Egypt to return all of the items that they “borrowed” from their Egyptian neighbors (12:35). Since they were entitled to keep these objects as payment for the work they did during their enslavement (see Sanhedrin 91a), to reassure them, Hashem immediately commanded them to donate these very items for the building of the Mishkan.

A: The Daas Z’keinim and Chizkuni explain that making the Ark completely out of gold would have made it too heavy to be transported on the shoulders of the Levites. Harav Dovid Feinstein, shlita, questions this, calculating that even with the middle layer of wood it weighed approximately eight tons. Rather, he answers that because the Ark contained a Torah scroll and the Tablets, it signifies the study of Torah. Although gold is considered more valuable, wood has an advantage in that it is alive and organic. We refer to the Torah as a “Toras Chaim” as it provides us with the necessary tools to respond to life’s challenges. Even at the apparent expense of the Ark’s glory, Hashem requires that the Torah rest in a wooden housing to teach that even the most learned Rav in the world may never remain static, as that would symbolize the death of the Torah, but must constantly be growing, changing, learning and adapting.


 

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.