“And the keruvim shall stretch out their wings on high” Exodus 25:20
This word, keruvim, sometimes translated as Cherubim, is used in only two places in the Chumash: to describe the statues guarding the Holy Ark (above) and the creatures protecting the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24): What is the connection between the Ark and the Garden of Eden, both of which merit the protection of these special creatures?
Many commentators, citing the Gemara in Chagiga 13b (stating that keruvim derives from the phrase ke ravia, Aramaic for “like infants”), view the keruvim as having the innocent faces of babies. So we might conclude that both the Garden of Eden and the Holy Ark require us to be in a state of innocence and purity in order to enter their midst.
But perhaps there is an even deeper message that we can draw. To plagiarise Milton slightly, the keruvim of the Garden of Eden are guarding the paradise that we lost; the keruvim of the Holy Ark guard “paradise gained”. The giving of the Torah can be viewed as the tikkun, repair, for the innocence that was lost in Eden.
While human beings can never regain our initial state of innocence, we can recover that same intimacy with God through the “second naiveté” granted by Torah. Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden before they could eat from the Tree of Life, but the Jewish people still have access to that Tree of Life, through the medium of Torah, our Eitz Chayyim. The keruvim guarding the Ark remind us of the preciousness of this gift, once considered lost, which we now have access to again because of our repaired relationship with God.