Parsha Terumah



What are we to make of the two golden Cherubs the Torah commanded Moshe to have made to be placed on top of the Ark? The Torah says they faced each other from the edges of the Ark and their wings spread over the cover of the Ark. covered the Ark. Anyone familiar with archaeology will know that throughout the Middle East thousands of years ago, kings, priests and animals were depicted with wings. It is thought that the wings represented rising above the material world or that they indicated Divine power.

But if the Torah is so insistent that we may neither make nor have images of anything on earth, in the Heavens or Seas, why these Cherubs? The Midrash explains that the cherubs represented not gods but the Jewish people under God. When the people were united so too were the Cherubs. But when they were divided, the Cherubs remained apart too.

In early philosophy there was a debate as to how we humans learned things. Augustine said that we are born with a brain like a clean sheet and over time it gets written on as we experience new things. In fact Pirkei Avot says something like this comparing learning in one’s youth to writing on a clean sheet.

But if we only learn from what we experience where does instinct come in and imagination? Where do we get the idea of flying unicorns or Dumbo or Cherubs from? The answer is that the brain combines elements it has seen to put together something fantastical.

Precisely because there are no flying human bodies that is why this image was used to convey the idea that religious experience too is quite unlike anything we humans come across in our normal physical lives. In order to appreciate the Divine we need to soar above the physical world using our imagination and sense of poetry and wonder. We humans have the spiritual imagination, if only we use it, to rise above the mundane.