The Cherubim and the Way Back to עץ החיים
By: Rav Shlomo Friedman
One of the more puzzling aspects of the משכן is the Cherubim that were on the כפורת (as well as the form of Cherubim that were on the פרוכת), as we read this week ויהיו הכרובים פורשי כנפים למעלה סוככים בכנפיהם על הכפורת. What is the meaning of the Cherubim and what lesson can we learn from them?
Perhaps we can suggest בדרך דרוש the following approach.
Our first encounter with Cherubim in the תורה is already at the beginning of ספר בראשית with the Cherubim placed at the entrance of גן עדן. Being that these are the only two places that Cherubim are mentioned in the חומש, it is logical to assume that that there might be a connection between the two. Examining the role of the Cherubim in that story could give us an insight into their function in the משכן.
The תורה tells us that the role of the Cherubim at the entrance of גן עדן was לשמור את דרך עץ החיים. In light of the fact that their job was to prevent אדם and חוה from eating from the עץ החיים, we might have expected the תורה to tell us that the Cherubim were placed there לחסום - to "block" the way to the Tree of Life. Why is the word לשמור -to “protect” used instead?
One can suggest that although the immediate role of the Cherubim was to block or prevent Man's ability to reach the עץ החיים, in reality they have an additional and almost opposite role as well . They also give Man the ability to eventually return and attain the עץ החיים (as we'll explain) and thus the word לשמור is in fact in place.
The sin of אדם and חוה stemmed from their being deceived by the נחש who told them that והייתם כאלוקים יודעי טוב ורע. It is true, said the נחש, that G-d throughout the story of creation not only created but also judged (וירא אלוקים כי טוב) , but, says the נחש, you too can be כאלוקים. You too can do the same and judge for yourself what is wrong and right, without having to accept G-d's standards. This lack of appreciation and awe for the word of G-d, and lack of realization of the infinite gap between the greatness of G-d and the lowlines of Man, was the root of the חטא הקדמוני. As long as such an attitude exists, Man is not worthy of being in גן עדן and enjoying the fruit of עץ החיים. There was a need for the Cherubim which רש"י tells us were מלאכי חבלה - angels of destruction to keep Man out. These awe-inspiring angels are there to teach Man that the way to עץ החיים involves proper אימה ויראה. Once Man learns that lesson he will eventually be fit to reenter גן עדן and benefit from the Tree of Life. Hence the תורה appropriately tells us that the Cherubim were there to prevent and block the way back to גן עדן for now, but also, through their awe-inspiring nature, prepare Man for his eventual return. Once Man gains the proper level of regard for דבר השם by pondering the lesson of the מלאכי חבלה, Man will be ready to come back to עץ החיים.
With this understanding of the Cherubim in בראשית we might suggest that the point of the Cherubim in the משכן was somewhat similar. After all, here too the Cherubim were associated with עץ החיים, a term associated with the Holy תורה as the פסוק tells us, עץ חיים היא למחזיקים בה. The Cherubim whose wings are raised above and "protect" the ארון with the לוחות הברית, are there to make us always aware of the all-important need of יראת שמים when we come to encounter the holy words of the תורה, the need for יראתו קודמת לחכמתו. Only with that proper frame of mind are we fit and worthy to partake in the infinitely lofty holy words of the תורה.
May we learn the lesson of the Cherubim so that we will find the path to עץ חיים היא of תורה, and thus help rectify all of G-d's world so that the path will be cleared for the return of Mankind to דרך עץ החיים.
Shiur ID: 9123
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