Shabbat Terumah 5776

When you think of cherubs, what comes to mind? I’d imagine that adorable faces with rosy cheeks and chubby thighs are part of your mental picture, with some wings thrown in for good measure. That’s the image we’ve adopted and that dominates the Valentine’s Day commercial cachet. But in Jewish tradition, keruvim, cherubim, are far more profound beings.
You might remember keruvim from the end of the Garden of Eden story in Genesis–they’re the ones who hold rotating swords to guard the path back to the Garden. Now they return to the Torah in this week’s portion, Terumah, in a position to protect the Ark of the Covenant. But this time they are unarmed. In fact, their arms are stretched up while facing each other. The tradition sees this as the perfect human posture in relationship with God and humanity. “They reach for the heavens but focus on their fellow, in this way uniting the two tablets of law that lie beneath their feet” (Rabbi Daniel Nevins, JTS rabbinical school dean, 2013).
The Talmud (Bavli Sukkah 5b), with a clear play on words, compares keruvim to children (Aramaic ke-ravya). The Hasidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev imagines that the twokeruvim as symbols for a master-disciple relationship. How would that explain the posture of the keruvim with upraised arms and faces toward each other?
On Shabbat morning, we’ll look at Levi Yitzhak’s teaching, and consider how it can inspire us as a community to dive deeper into Jewish learning. And we’ll look at a blog entry by a Conservative rabbi who is making this happen in his community.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise