Believe it or not, there is some important child-rearing advice to be taken from the cherubim that appear in this week’s Torah portion.
This week’s Torah portion is “Terumah” (Exodus 25:1–27:19), and in it we read about the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and all its utensils, and by extension, about the building and utensils of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
One of the most prominent utensils in the Mishkan/Holy Temple was certainly the Holy Ark. It housed the tablets of the Ten Commandments, including the shattered pieces of the first tablets that Moses destroyed when he saw the Golden calf. The Holy Ark was the holiest of utensils and was kept in a special room known as the Holy of Holies. Only the High Priest was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies, and only on Yom Kippur.
On top of the Holy Ark were the mysterious cherubim: two golden, winged, angel-like statues, with the faces of children. One cherub had the face of a young girl, and one had the face of a young boy. It was said to be a beautiful sight, symbolizing peace, innocence and holiness.
However, most people do not realize that this is not our first encounter with the cherubim. The cherubim make their first appearance way back at the beginning of Genesis. There, in Genesis, the cherubim are not the peaceful, loving, children-like angels presented in this week’s reading in the book of Exodus.
After Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden for eating from the forbidden fruit, God placed guards at the entrance to block them. The guards were…cherubim! But this time, they were not golden and peaceful; they were armed and dangerous! They had swords and fire. They were scary. Adam and Eve would not even think of trying to sneak back into the Garden.
Why the Conflicting Messages?
So are the cherubim peaceful images of children in an environment of holiness, or are they armed mercenaries ready to engage in battle? Why the conflicting messages?
It is explained that there is an important message here in raising children. Recall that the cherubim had childlike faces. The rabbis say that we learn from the cherubim that children are molded based on their environment. If you place them in an atmosphere where they are exposed to violence and warfare, that is how they will turn out. On the other hand, place them in an environment of purity and holiness, and that is how they will turn out. The childlike faces of the cherubim, in the two contrasting environments, remind us that our children will be affected by the environment in which they are raised.
I don’t know about you, but I’m working hard to ensure that my children turn out like the “Exodus Cherubim” and not the “Genesis” ones!
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
For more insights by Rabbi Ari Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below:
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