“And the cherubim are to spread their wings upwards forming a cover to cover the ark with their wings and their faces towards one another” Exodus 25: 20

By Rabbi Gideon Sylvester, February 18, 2010

A beautiful passage in the Talmud records that when Jewish families made pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem, they would be ushered in to see the two cherubs which covered the ark. Their guide would invite them to look at the image of these embracing figures with the gentle reminder, “See how your love before the Almighty should be as the love of a man for a woman.”

In our age, fundamentalist zealots and arrogant atheists have chipped away at our conception of God. They have exchanged the loving, caring God of Israel, and the gentle path of Judaism for a cruel deity served by violent, unthinking religious fanatics.

The deep, warm, passionate love between the man and woman embracing is indeed a fitting metaphor for our relationship with the Almighty because our God is one of loving kindness and mercy “whose ways are ways of pleasantness and all of whose paths are peace” (Proverbs 3: 17). This loving relationship is not just an attractive poetic metaphor; it is the ideal of religious living (Rambam, Laws of Repentance 10: 2).

Sadly, the Gemara goes on to state that when the Romans destroyed our holy Temple, they found the cherubs and ridiculed them suggesting that they were simply cheap, erotic images.

Our rabbis were well aware that non-Jews may sometimes struggle to understand the intimate nature of our relationship with God. They may find our laws over-exacting and fail to appreciate the richness of our heritage. But our prophets also understood that while the nations may spurn us now, in the future things will be different. They will come to Jerusalem to pray in the Temple; “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations” (Isaiah 56: 3-7).

Last updated: 3:03pm, February 18 2010