After having redeemed us from Egypt and given us the Torah on Mount Sinai, G‑d makes an inconceivable announcement in this week's Torah portion: He is going to come and live with us. This mind-boggling idea is expressed by the verse: "They shall make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them." (Ex. 25:8) There follow detailed specifications for that sanctuary, including the dimensions and materials of all its components and the ritual artifacts to be used in divine service there. The centerpiece of all this is the Holy Ark of the Covenant, repository of the G‑d-given Tablets on which the Ten Commandments were engraved. The Ark was adorned by two cherubs and it was from between these that the Voice of G‑d would speak to the Jewish People.

Each specific detail was the very incarnation of the spiritual….

Needless to say, the precise details of the sanctuary and its artifacts were not arbitrary. Nor, however, were they symbolic, in the sense that a symbol is but a suggestion of something else. In the sanctuary, each specific detail was the very "incarnation" of the spiritual, a tangible manifestation of G‑dly concepts. To appreciate the significance of the cherubs, let us first become familiar with their description:

"And you shall make a covering (kaporet in Hebrew) of pure gold … and you shall make two cherubs of gold - of beaten work shall you make them - at the two ends of the kaporet. Make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end; of the kaporet [itself - i.e., fashioned of the selfsame block of gold and thus a single unit with the kaporet] shall you make the cherubs at its two ends. The cherubs should extend their wings upward, covering over the kaporet with their wings, and their faces should be toward one another; the faces of the cherubs should be toward the kaporet. And you shall put the kaporet over the Ark from above, and into the Ark you shall place the Testimony [the Tablets of the Ten Commandments] that I will give you." (Ex. 25:17-21)

These holy items traveled with the Jews during their wanderings in the desert, and later came to rest in the first Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, there came a time when the First Temple was destroyed, and the cherubs were lost. In Song of Songs, which is an allegorical love song between the Jewish People and G‑d, we exiled Jews yearn for this lost closeness with our Beloved [G‑d], saying, "If only You were as my brother, that nurtures from the breasts of my mother! [Then,] when I should find You outside I would kiss you, and none would scorn me. I would lead You and bring You into the house of my mother that You might teach me; I would cause You to drink of spiced wine, of the juice of my pomegranate." (Songs 8:1-2)

While the Temple stood, the Jews were called brothers with G‑d….

While the Temple stood, the Jews were called "brothers" with G‑d, as it says, "For the sake of my brothers and companions…," (Psalms 122:8-9) juxtaposed with "For the sake of the house of G‑d, our L-rd." Now that the "house of G‑d" - the Holy Temple - is no longer standing, however, we lament, "If only You were as my brother." The relevance of the rest of the above passage to the cherubs will become apparent after a discussion of the mystical significance of the latter.

The prophet Ezekiel had a vision of heavenly creatures (the chayot), each of which had four faces (see Ezekiel 1:10 and 10:14). These are described in Ezekiel 10:14 as including the faces of a cherub, a man, a lion and an eagle. The Talmud (Chagigah 13b) states that the word "k'ruv", "cherub", means that the face was that of a child, and goes on to ask what, in that case, is the difference in Ezekiel's vision between the "face of a cherub" and the "face of a man"? The Talmud clarifies that the expression "face of a man" refers to that of a grown man, whereas the "face of a cherub" means that of a child.

Ezekiel's prophecy goes on to state that above the chayot was something of the likeness of a firmament, above which "was the likeness of a throne which appeared like sapphire stone, and on the likeness of the throne was a likeness of the appearance of a Man upon it from above." (Ezekiel 1:26) This is a reference to G‑d.

Yet such references need explanation, for how can G‑d be described - even with all the qualifying words like "likeness" and "appearance" - as a Man? It certainly does not mean that G‑d "looks like" a man (G‑d forbid), for He has no appearance or body at all. What does such a description actually refer to?

G‑d created mankind in His image…

The answer is to be understood in accordance with the principle that G‑d created mankind in His image - meaning that He deliberately created us in such a way that our human attributes and qualities reflect certain spiritual concepts. In this way, through Torah-guided contemplation of our own make-up - which, of course, is something we can relate to - we are able to attain some comprehension of G‑d.

Specifically, the Torah itself is called "man", as expounded from the verses: "This is the Torah: man" (Num.19:14); and "This is the Torah of man". (II Samuel 7:19) One explanation of this is as our sages have taught, "The entire Torah is [comprised of] the names of G‑d." (Zohar II:124a; introduction to Ramban's commentary on the Torah) We also find that the ten principle means of divine manifestation, referred to in mystical literature as the "ten sefirot", are described by the Zohar as "the secret of the Holy Name". In other words, the Torah bears a similar relationship to G‑d (in a manner of speaking) as a person's name does to that person.

In isolation, one is not called by name. They are who they are; a name is of no meaning to a person as they know themselves. Instead, a name is merely a device to identify the person to others. In doing so, however, although one's name represents the person - and in fact, refers to that person in their entirety - it is not in any way a part of, connected to, or physically reminiscent of the person. In a similar fashion, G‑d makes himself known to the world through the ten principle means of manifestation we call the ten sefirot, which include the three so-called "intellectual" faculties (chochma, bina and daat), and seven "emotional" attributes grouped around G‑d's "kindness" (chesed) and "might" (gevura). The point is that, just as a person's name is not at all of that person and serves merely to let others know him or her, so are G‑d's so-called "attributes," the sefirot, utterly unconnected to G‑d's actual "Self", so to speak - a level which is completely unknowable.

The soul is utterly unknowable….

Now, in a person, the soul is utterly unknowable. It expresses itself through its own ten principle means of manifestation - created, as noted above, parallel to G‑d's ten sefirot - from the highest level of intellect (chochma, the faculty to conceive new ideas seemingly out of nowhere) through the gamut of human emotions. Yet the primary manifestation of the soul is in the intellect. Consciousness itself is the first glimmer of life, and it is from the brain that all the body's life and energy flows to the appropriate limbs and organs. The same is true, allegorically speaking, with respect to G‑d's "transition" from utterly unknowable to manifest within the universe: G‑d first reveals Himself through the spiritual faculty, or sefira, we refer to as chochma, from which point all else flows. This is alluded to by the verse: "G‑d founded the earth with wisdom [chochma]." (Proverbs 3:19) The Hebrew name used for "G‑d" in this verse is "Havayah", which in this context signifies G‑d's deliberately "compressing" Himself (as if such a thing were possible) and expressing Himself within the universe.

The Hebrew wording of the verse begins "Havayah b'chochma", which can be understood to mean that the initial manifestation of Havayah - G‑dly revelation within Creation, His "name", as it were (as Isaiah 42:8 says, "I am Havayah, that is My name") - is in the aspect of chochma, G‑d's "wisdom", so to speak.

For the above reason, the sefira of chochma - initial focus of all G‑dly manifestation, as the brain is the "kernel" within which the sum total of a person is first contained - is called "man". It is referred to in mystical sources as "the first man" ("Adam Harishon" or "Adam Kadma'a"), in accordance with the verse "the beginning of wisdom" (Psalms 111:10), which can also be read as, "chochma (wisdom) is the beginning, the first." And, just as in man, all further G‑dly revelation proceeds from chochma.

The Torah is G‑d's revelation to the universe, and indeed, derives from the sefira of chochma - G‑d's "wisdom" - as it is taught (Zohar II:121a), "The Torah derives from chochma." Appropriately, the Torah is therefore also called "man," as quoted above.

(An interesting point along these lines is made in the Zohar at the beginning of the Torah portion Toldot (134b), and the work, Hadrat Melech (79b). It is stated there that - in accordance with the teaching that the 248 positive commandments of the Torah parallel the 248 limbs of the human body and the 365 negative injunctions in the Torah parallel the body's 365 sinews- the Talmudic teaching (Kidushin 40b) that "study is greater [than practice], because study leads to practice" may be interpreted as follows: just as the brain directs all the body's life-force to each of its limbs and sinews, so is study of Torah, which is a function of chochma, superior to practice of the Torah's positive and negative commandments, since it is only from chochma that the spiritual life-force flows into and brings to life these "limbs and sinews" in the "man" of Torah.)

The above concept - that G‑d manifests Himself initially in the sefira of chochma, spiritual source of the Torah - is what is meant by the saying, "The Torah is bound up with G‑d." (Zohar III:73a) However, on this exalted plane, the point at which G‑d first manifests Himself out of utter inscrutability, we are not talking about the Torah as we know it. We mortals relate to the Torah because G‑d, in His mercy upon us, expressed His wisdom therein through physical, earthly matters. For example, the Torah teaches us that if A argues with B over property, the resolution should be in accordance with certain principles. Or, the Torah tells us to spin wool and form it into tzitzit, or to set aside a portion of the dough when baking bread. Yet behind these things lie the deepest mysteries and spiritual secrets of creation. We cannot relate to the Torah on that high a plane, though, so G‑d "veiled" the inconceivable spirituality of the Torah in physical form for us.

Creating the universe did not change G‑d's perfect and all-encompassing unity in any way….

The "natural" state of the Torah, so to speak, its unconcealed G‑dliness, is what we have been discussing until now. This derives, as explained, from the supernal attribute of chochma, which is infinite; with respect to the Torah on this level it is stated that "to His understanding there is no searching" (Isaiah 40:28). As taught elsewhere, G‑d is both the Knower and the One Who knows. This level of the Torah - the manifestation of His essential "Self", the "face" G‑d shows to the universe - is known as the greater Man and "great face".

However, for the Torah to reach our level, in the spiritual realm of Beriya and below, it was necessary, as stated above, for G‑d to "compress" His wisdom further and express it in worldly terms. This is the meaning of the Midrashic comment, "The Holy One, may He be blessed, compressed his Presence between the poles of the Ark [by which it was carried; see Ex. 25:13-14]." (Shemot Rabba 26) This refers to the fact that it was from here, between the two cherubs, that G‑d spoke to Moses.

As contrasted with that of a mature person, the intellect of a child is not fully developed; he or she possesses only a limited ability to comprehend what would be perfectly plain to an adult. That is the symbolism of the cherubs, in Hebrew "k'ruvim", a word which indicates "the face of a child". That is, this is the "face" G‑d shows to us mortals: a level of manifestation referred to as "small face" and the lesser Man.

In sum, the Torah is called "man" because it derives from G‑d's wisdom, which is the "kernel" containing the sum total of G‑d's expression to the universe and the source of that expression throughout the allegorical "body" of the rest of the sefirot. This is the "great face" G‑d shows to the highest spiritual realms. However, for the spirituality of the Torah to reach a level accessible to us mortals, G‑d "compressed" His wisdom into a form even we limited creatures could understand, just as a child's mind needs an idea to be brought down to its level. This is the "lesser face" G‑d shows us, and is symbolized by the cherubs, whose faces were those of children. It was only from within these confines - "between the cherubs" - that it was possible for G‑d to "speak" to the Jews.

Indeed, the symbolism of the two cherubs goes further than that. The two cherubs were arranged "one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end." The first cherub - at the "end" alluded to by the verse which speaks of the sun (itself a reference to Torah, as explained in the Zohar on parashat Teruma) as "going forth from the end of heaven" (Psalms 19:7) - represents transmission from above downwards, to become the source of G‑d's "light" into the lower realms of Beriya and below. The second cherub - at our end, so to speak - represents our eliciting this revelation of G‑dliness upon us through our own sincere efforts at worshiping G‑d.

Specifically, this is accomplished by a person contemplating the unity of G‑d as expressed in the Shema prayer, "Hear, O Israel, Havayah is our G‑d, Havayah is One." (Deut. 6:4) One should reflect upon how creating the universe did not change G‑d's perfect and all-encompassing unity in any way (as Malachi 3:6 says, "I, Havayah, have not changed"); how G‑d merely "spoke" - something utterly separate from the speaker, as a person's words are not at all a part of him or her - and the entire universe came into being, as the Psalmist states, "…for He [merely] commanded and they were created" (Psalms 148:5), and how all is considered as nothing before Him. This meditation should bring one to a state of yearning for G‑d alone - that is, for G‑d Himself, as opposed to any form, no matter how sublime, of mere "manifestation" of G‑d whatsoever - a yearning so strong that one would, if one only could, break loose of one's physical bounds and be absorbed in G‑d's all-encompassing unity, even at the cost of losing one's independent existence thereby. Because we have this ability to pine so purely for G‑d alone, the Community of Jewish Souls is referred to as G‑d's "bride", the Hebrew word for which -" kalla" - connotes "k'lot hanefesh", the type of longing and pining for G‑d Himself just described.

This yearning for G‑d, which extends from below upward, as it were, is what elicits G‑d in turn to respond "from above downward" and bestow His light upon us, a relationship represented by the two cherubs at either end of the kaporet. Yet the cherubs were both "of the kaporet"; the kaporet was itself the very material out of which the cherubs were fashioned as a single solid piece. Thus, both cherubs - the one representing G‑d's transmission of His light from above upon us and the one symbolizing our yearning to reach out to G‑d from below upwards - sprang from the same source. This symbolizes the fact that both spiritual levels, the "great face" of G‑d's manifestation above and the "small face" of G‑d's manifestation below, are insignificant compared to their source in that transcendent level of G‑d Himself ("Sovev Kol Almin") which is to any manifestation as a person's self is to their name.

Translator's disclaimer: The Hebrew original contains much more than could possibly be presented here. Thus, for those with the ability to learn in Hebrew, this synopsis should not be considered a substitute for the original discourse.

[Copyright 2001 Yitzchok D. Wagshul /
Adapted from a discourse in Torah Or]