parshat vayakhel-pekudei – exodus 36
Join Geoffrey Stern and Rabbi Adam Mintz recorded on March 16th 2023 on Clubhouse. The craftsmen and craftswomen building the Tabernacle are commanded to weave curtains showcasing images of two Cherubs and fashion golden statues to match. We wonder how these winged-creatures differ from the Golden Calf and the forbidden images that the Bible ridicules with such scorn?
Sefaria Source Sheet: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/474160
Welcome to Madlik. My name is Geoffrey Stern and at Madlik we light a spark or shed some light on a Jewish Text or Tradition. Along with Rabbi Adam Mintz, we host Madlik Disruptive Torah on clubhouse every Thursday and share it as the Madlik podcast on your favorite platform. This week’s Torah portion is Vayakhel-Pekudei. The craftsmen and craftswomen building the Tabernacle are commanded to weave curtains showcasing images of two Cherubs and fashion golden statues to match. We wonder how these winged-creatures differ from the Golden Calf and the forbidden images that the Bible ridicules with such scorn? So take out your chisels and your mallets and join us for “Man-Made”
Well, welcome, welcome, welcome, Rabbi, another week of Madlik disruptive Torah.
Adam Mintz 01:01
And we got a double parsha this week. So how could it be bad
Geoffrey Stern 01:04
A double parsha, it gives us more things to pick from. So yes, that is great. And we are building the tabernacle, we’ve talked about it. But the as I said, we’re talking about man-made. Many of the pesukim that we’re going to deal with are literal cut and pastes from previous parshiot where we were commanded to make these things, make the menorah, make the cherubs. But here, we’re actually putting the rubber to the metal. And I think this is the appropriate time to discuss making the idol and how can you do it. So I mean, to give you a sense of how much our parsha really, I would say, celebrates artistry and artifact and the ability of man to make things I’m just going to quote a few verses, but when you read it this Shabbat, you will see that there is a reason that the school in Israel that teaches art is called but Bezalel because this parsha just celebrates artifice in Exodus 35: 21. It says an everyone who excelled in ability and everyone whose spirit was moved, came bringing to God and offering for the work of the tent of meeting. And all the skilled woman spun with their own hands and put what they had spun in blue, purple, crimson yards and fine linen, endowing him with a divine spirit of skill, ability and knowledge. ר֣וּחַ אֱלֹקִ֑ים בְּחׇכְמָ֛ה בִּתְבוּנָ֥ה וּבְדַ֖עַת וּבְכׇל־מְלָאכָֽה in Every kind of craft and inspiring him to make designs for work in gold, silver and copper, to cut stones for setting and to carve wood to work in every kind of designer’s craft. So that sets the stage. This parsha is a celebration of artifice. And I can say it right from the beginning. It’s not a secret Jews and making statues and making images. There is a tight dance going on. But I had to give that context. Because if there is a case to be made for human beings; for Jews, expressing their image and the Spirit of God inside of them by creating, this is the Parsha. So now let’s get to the meat of things and to this subject that we are going to discuss in Exodus 36: 8 it says, then all the skilled among those engaged in the work made the tabernacle of ten strips of cloth, which they made a fine twisted linen, blue, purple crimson yarns into these they worked as a design of cherubim שָׁנִ֔י כְּרֻבִ֛ים these are two cherubs. So already before we even get to the iconic gold cherubs that are on top of the ark, even when they are making the tapestries. They are making images in the tapestry of these cherubs Exodus 36: 35. They made the curtain of blue, purple and crimson yarns and fine twisted linen. Working into it a design of the cherubim these two cherubs and then in Exodus 37: 7 we get to those iconic golden statues. He made two cherubim of gold he made them of hammered work at the two ends of the cover, one cherub at one end and the other cherub at the other end. He made the cherubim of one piece with the cover. As its two ends, the cherubim had their wings spread out above shielding the cover with their wings. They faced each other. The faces of the cherubim were turned toward the cover, Rabbi, I mean, maybe you can forget about the tapestry. But have you ever seen this kind of language of building an image besides the golden calf? In the Bible?
Adam Mintz 05:32
And it’s so central to the tabernacle, right? It kind of seems like everything is built up to the ark, and the ark is built up for the Cherubim. So, it here we have an idol on top of the ark that held the tablets, we have an idol. Isn’t that crazy? And the funny thing is that the broken tablets were also in the ark. And the tablets were broken because they built on top of the ark!
Geoffrey Stern 06:00
So I love the fact that you bring up that the broken tablets are inside of the ark. And I was going to mention this later. The first tablets were made by God, but the second tablets were made by man in Exodus 34: 1 it says God said to Moses carve two tablets of stone like the first and I will inscribe upon the tablets the words that were on the first tablets which you shattered. The word that it used for carve those two tablets is פְּסׇל־לְךָ֛ pesel is literally …. I knew Karl Katz, who used to be the head Bezalel then he came to the Israel Museum. And when he wanted to make a sculpture garden, the Rabbinate was all over him sculptures in Hebrew are “pesalim”. They said how can you make a garden of Pesalim in Jerusalem? So, we already have this tension between good Pesels and bad pesels, so to speak. It is kind of fascinating. But you’re right. This is the crux this is ground zero.
Adam Mintz 07:18
Yeah, that’s so interesting. You mentioned Karl Katz. Karl Katz and my father grew up together, they went to school together. It’s a small world, everything comes back to Karl Katz. But that’s right. I mean, a sculpture garden is you know, that’s pesalim. I mean, we’re all over it everywhere you see idols, but then at the same time, idols are exactly what is prohibited. And the book of Devarim in the book of Deuteronomy, the entire book tells you about how evil pesalim are. So something crazy is going on? Absolutely. There’s a mystery here. I don’t know if we’re gonna crack it. But we have identified it for sure. So as I said, Before, we were in Exodus 37. And in Exodus 25, literally, it was almost as though paragraph by paragraph word by words. 2518 says make two of them have gold, make them have hammered work. It’s literally the same. I think it’s very appropriate that we’re talking about this tonight, even though this is not the first time it’s mentioned. Because we’re going to focus on the craft, we’re going to focus on the the prohibition but also maybe the requirements that man make them in a certain way they are man-made. And we know that this week, because we have these craftsmen but most of the commentaries that explain these verses, you’ve got to go back into Exodus 25 when it’s first mentioned, so Rashi on Cherubim says they had the form of a child’s face, you know, angelic right? Isn’t that the image that we have so much of cherubim … these little gold children with wings on their back and smiling blissfully at each other. Love it. Yeah, I mean, that is the image we have. I mean, the sources that we’re gonna study tonight are not so sure about that. But that’s the image that we grew up with. Basically, and by the way, the reason we grew up with it is because that was that’s what Rashi says, and you know, Rashi becomes like, you know, as if it’s written in the Torah itself. True, but there’s a higher authority to washi and that is the Bible itself, and the first time we’ve been exposed to two of him. I don’t think they had baby faces. If you remember Genesis 3: 24, after the original sin, it was driven out; and east of the garden of Eden were stationed the cherubim and the fiery ever-turning sword, to guard the way to the tree of life. So our first experience with the Cherubim we didn’t picture these two little fluttering babies with wings on them. So it’s not altogether clear, is it? Well, it’s not clear from the beginning of Genesis what they were. All we know is that they were frightened, right? They were protection. So they scared people away somehow
Geoffrey Stern 10:31
and they had a sword ….
Adam Mintz 10:33
Right… I’m saying they scared people. They had a different purpose. I mean, it doesn’t explicitly say they weren’t children. It just doesn’t seem to fit into the mood. Exactly.
Geoffrey Stern 10:43
Yeah. One thing that I think we are seeing is, you know, a cherub is a single cherub and two cherubs are cherubim. I was almost thinking of calling the podcast Cherubim Cherubum! But, but they do come in pairs, they do come in pairs. That is kind of interesting. But the Talmud, and the rabbinic literature has so many different concepts. And you know, your wife, Sharon should be here because in the illustrated Haggadot that we’re going to use in a few weeks, they’re full of birds, there are those that believe they were a certain type of bird, the Ezekiel and in some of the prophets, we have these Ma’aseh Merkavah… the chariots, and there you have winged creatures that are four footed, the gamut of what these cherubs could be really goes from babies to birds, to large animals. And in the notes, I do, quote, a wonderful survey in thetorah.com, What kind of creatures are the Cherubim, it’s by Dr. Raanan Eichler. And if you’re interested, definitely take a look at the source sheet. But he concludes that ultimately, he really feels that the cherub was a combination of two things. And that’s what unites them all. So no matter whether it was a bird with a human face, or it was an ox with wings, or whatever it was, the he feels that it was this kind of combination. That was what it’s about. But the bottom line is that’s not the subject of tonight’s discussion. Whatever they are, they are real images. This is a three-dimensional figure. And that’s what we’re going to be focused on. But it is kind of fascinating what they were, and how that impacted maybe what was permitted to be shown in illustrated manuscripts and mosaic floors. Who knows, we certainly like to think that we don’t permit any images. But there certainly are a lot of images in our story. So that kind of becomes fascinating. I’m sure you’ve seen some amazing illustrated manuscripts in your day Rabbi.
Adam Mintz 13:31
I have and this is a great, this is great. So let’s, let’s continue that discussion, cuz I think there’s a lot here.
Geoffrey Stern 13:37
So, in one of the sources, I quote, you can all of a sudden see that the rabbi’s themselves was sensitive to the question that we’re raising tonight. So, in the Chizkuni after he says that they were a certain type of bird. And then he goes on to say, an even the Torah, in the second of the 10 commandments has expressly forbidden us to make anything that is like creatures on earth or in the sky. The reason why the making of the cherubs is exempt from this was it was not made to be worshipped, but to remain hidden inside the most inaccessible part of the Temple. So, this touches upon a discussion we had a few weeks ago, which is so much of the Mishkan and the later Temple was putting an enigma into an Enigma was making surrounding barriers so that almost praying outside at the wall became almost a natural thing to do. But it is fascinating that one of the reasons that the rabbi’s felt this was different than your typical graven image was that it was kind of hidden. That’s kind of fascinating.
Adam Mintz 14:54
Yeah, it is kind of fascinating. Yes, it is. That’s really good. Okay, good. And I was just looking Get the article in the toe rough, you know, and the article that you quote here. And that’s also interesting the idea of them being a composite, which is really the point you made. They’re always kerubim. They’re always in the in the plural Cherubim. And the question is why that is exactly. I mean, you’re interested in the fact that the plural of cherub is cherubim rather than cherubs. It should really be cherubs. I never thought, you know, in all my life. I never thought of that before. But you are 100% Right? Where does the word cherubim come from?
Geoffrey Stern 15:33
And is that an English word? I mean, is that how I mean
Adam Mintz 15:36
it looks like I’m just looking in Sefaria. Yeah, it looks like that’s the way they translate it. So I guess that that’s they made it into an English word. So this might be the only English word based on a Hebrew word that is grammatically correct. I mean, it I love it. very fine, very good. This because this, this discussion is worth it just for that. So that his Chizkuni continues, and he’s troubled, he is troubled by the fact that this is going against, oh, I would say a “befayrusha pasuk” (pasuk mefurash) it Exodus 20. You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image or a likeness of what is in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. It doesn’t even talk about worshipping it. And we might make the argument in a few minutes that they never worshipped it. But you can’t make it and it doesn’t apply only it says, לֹֽ֣א־תַֽעֲשֶׂ֨ה־לְךָ֥֣ פֶ֣֙סֶל֙ , which is kind of fascinating. It’s the opposite of פְּסׇל־לְךָ֛. But in any case, you can’t make a pesel but you also can’t make the image. So the woven hangings, wall-hangings that we discussed a second ago, are in the same in the same category. So one of the other answers that he gives, He says that it’s usual in the Torah, that there are exceptions to every rule. He goes, you can’t do everything that was done in the temple on Shabbat, unless you work in the temple, the Cohanim sed to bring sacrifices and kill things [on Shabbat]. We all know that if a baby is born and eight days later, it’s the Brit falls on Shabbat you break the shabbat and do the Brit ritual fringes you can have of linen and wool. So that’s another fascinating thing that it’s not the first time that we’ve seen a commandment that is broken explicitly by the Torah itself. I don’t know whether that gives it you know, a kind of “walk on the wild side” type of extra “stolen waters are sweet” or makes it a higher level of holiness. But certainly, there is precedent there. And this would be one of those exceptions. It’s a great case. Chizkuni. It’s really a good Chizkuni because the Chizkuny basically says that what the Torah is about is rules. And their exceptions. That’s what that I mean, maybe you say that’s what legal systems are about. Every legal system has the rule and its exceptions, but the Torah is like that, too. Everything has its exceptions. So, Shabbos is shabbos but it has its exception and shatnez is shatnez, but it has its exception. And idolatry is idolatry. But it has its exceptions. That’s such a great idea.
Geoffrey Stern 18:20
So in the Talmud in Hagiga, it takes it one step further. And it says it starts by saying that the likeness of their faces, they had the face of a man and the forehead, the face of a lion. Now we’re talking about really the divine chariot in Ezekiel. And then it says Reish Lakish said Ezekiel requested mercy with regard to it the face of the ox. He thought that the cherubim had this this ox and you can see in some Syrian and Iraqi things, they have these gigantic animals that are guarding the temple and they have wings on them. And he said before Him, Reish Lakish said: Ezekiel requested mercy with regard to it, i.e., the face of the ox, and had it turned into a cherub. He said before Him as follows: Master of the Universe. Shall an accuser [kateigor] become a defender [saneigor]? As the face of an ox recalls Israel’s sin of the Golden Calf, it would be preferable for there to be a different face on the Divine Chariot. He says if we have that in the temple, that’s like reminding You of the golden calf every time we come into the Holy of Holies and request mercy. You don’t wear gold on Yom Kippur and the beautiful explanation which is Greek is קָטֵיגוֹר יֵעָשֶׂה סָנֵיגוֹר the defendant doesn’t become the prosecutor don’t remind God of gold (as in the Golden Calf). And here we are, we have these golden; according to this interpretation, body of an ox. It is it’s taking this concept of making that which is forbidden permitted in in a fascinating moment and a fascinating day if you if you follow it through to that that it’s not simply a graven image, but it’s a graven image of a graven Ox/Calf so to speak. Fascinating, just fascinating. The Rabbi’s were aware of the issue here, no question about it.
Adam Mintz 20:06
No question about it. The Rabbis were very much aware of the issue. Now, I don’t know if they have a good answer, but they’re aware of the issue.
Geoffrey Stern 20:14
So we already established that that which is forbidden is not simply to worship these graven images, but also to make it. But certainly, the question is, what was the function of these cherubim of these cherubs? And there is no sense I think you’ll agree with me that they were ever worshipped …. we can’t force the question to the point where we say, and they built an idol because they worship these Cherubim. In Exodus 25, it says, There I will meet with you and I will impart to you from above the cover from between the two cherubim that are on top of the Ark of the Covenant, all that I will command you. In Numbers 7, it says, when Moses went into the tent of meeting to speak with God, he would hear the voice addressing him from above the cover that was on top of the ark of the covenant between the Cherubim. Thus God spoke to him. So, Rashi explains, this verse explains exactly what happened. Moses came into the tabernacle. And as soon as he had passed, the entrance, a voice fell from heaven to the place on the cover, which was between the Cherubim. And from there it issued and was heard by Moses in the tent of meeting outside the Holy of Holies. That’s kind of fascinating. What do you make of that?
Adam Mintz 21:47
You know, what’s great about these discussions? It’s one of those things that you can possibly imagine, right? Like, what was it? How did God communicate through the Holy of Holies, and through the Cherubim, and through the ark, so you love when the commentators kind of paint a picture for us, because it’s really just their imagination, also, and I think we can really relate to that imagination.
Geoffrey Stern 22:11
You know, when you walk into a room and you hear a voice, what’s the first thing you do? You look around, you want to see a source for the voice, you want to find the speaker, you want to find the person?
Adam Mintz 22:22
And the best thing is that there is when there is no source. That’s real, that’s mysterious. You see, it’s interesting that God wants to be mysterious. I don’t know what the right answer is. But you know, it’s just interesting that it’s important that God is mysterious, it’s important that no one is allowed in the Holy of Holies.
Geoffrey Stern 22:43
But what I like is he, on the one hand, he or she wants to be mysterious. But on the other hand, when you move your head from side to side, looking for the source, He’s made it so you can look at the Cherubim, he’s projecting his voice to come through the Cherubim, according to the Numbers that we just quoted, and this Rashi and it’s not so much Rashi. If you look at the verse in in Numbers 7: 89, it literally says, When Moses went into the Tent of Meeting to speak with [God], he would hear the Voice addressing him from above the cover that was on top of the Ark of the Pact between the two cherubim; thus [God] spoke to him. I mean, it’s right there. You know, there’s this wonderful expression in the Talmud, when you hear a voice, it’s called a Bat Kol but here is, here’s kind of the source, it’s a daughter, it’s a child of a voice. It emanates from here; you need a place to focus. That’s how I read it, that it’s really, it provides a place to focus clearly nothing to worship, but that you need something like that is kind of fascinating,
Adam Mintz 23:55
Really fascinating, right? I think that right? I think, and this is all that’s what it’s about. Because since they’re just kind of imagining it. But it’s so interesting the way they imagine it, and they need something, you need a way to focus on God, but it needs to be mysterious, and it kind of needs to be secret. It’s kind of our secret code. You know, we have that, by the way, God’s name. We don’t pronounce God’s name, the way it’s spelt. That’s not a mistake. That’s part of the mystery.
Geoffrey Stern 24:27
You know, the next focus that I had was maybe because we’re talking about artifice here. Maybe the something that we have to focus on is how it was made. So, I looked at Exodus 32: 4 with the Golden Calf. And it says this He took from them and cast in a mold and made it into a molten calf וַיָּ֤צַר אֹתוֹ֙ בַּחֶ֔רֶט וַֽיַּעֲשֵׂ֖הוּ עֵ֣גֶל מַסֵּכָ֑ה There’s something that’ s beautiful the Rashi on the process is for all of them, he has to old French, French, I guess, because we’re really talking about technology (techniques), how these things are made. And one of the things I was focused on for a little bit was, you know, when you mold an idol, when it’s a molten, an image, maybe that is part because in our verses, I read them quickly. But if you focused, it really did focus on how they were to be made. It says that they should be hammered work מִקְשָׁה֙ עָשָׂ֣ה אֹתָ֔ם , and I thought maybe it’s the process. That is the problem here. When you mold something, you’re clearly making it totally in your image, you’ve got to create the mold, you pour (the metal) into the mold, it is totally man made. And maybe why was thinking when you hammer it, you’re almost exploring what’s inside of it. I didn’t get that too far. But I really felt that there was a focus on all of these explanations that the process mattered.
Adam Mintz 26:23
Yeah, there’s no question that the process matters. That I mean, you know, we can go back to the very beginning. Why does the Torah bother telling us about the building of the tabernacle twice? You pointed out the fact that a lot of these commentaries we’re looking at are from the first time it’s mentioned in Truma. My question is, why do you need it twice? And maybe it’s because it wants to emphasize the fact that the process matters.
Geoffrey Stern 26:49
Allen, what say you?
Alan Yodel 26:51
Well, it’s really fascinating stuff. I love listening to you guys kind of working on this. But where I’m going basically has to do with taking a look at the “kiruv’ of Cherub and relating it to Merkava, Rachav (ride) from Ezekiel. And they’re all related to taking a ride of some sort. You know? So, what is this ride that Hashem is taking, you know, it’s possibly, from the unknowable, to something more knowable in the Mishkan. It says he’s taking this ride, and possibly, that has to do with the Cherub itself. And also, there’s a sense that I get them “on either side”, and they’re facing each other also, and that there’s something significant to me that I feel that the fact that they’re facing Panim el Panim. And thinking of a typewriter. They’re like the margins of a typewriter, finding the space, you know, where the Nevi’im (prophets) are going to have a prophetic experience in between those Cherubs. So all these kinds of images come to mind.
Adam Mintz 28:09
Let me just say it’s interesting. You connect the word Cherub to Merkava because they’re not actually the same word. But it’s an interesting idea. It’s actually a flip of the letters. The Reish becomes before the Chaf. It’s not actually the same word. But you say that it’s a journey. That’s interesting. Geoffrey, that’s interesting, we all go on a journey, right? It’s part of the journey, God’s journey to us and our journey back to God.
Geoffrey Stern 28:35
Well, I think what Alan made me really focus on which I hadn’t before, is we really haven’t focused on the wing part of it. You know, when God created the world, it says, וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם , he fluttered, he fluttered above the abyss. (see Rashi on Genesis 1:2 “even as a dove hovers over its nest. In old French acoveter.) And then when he took us out of Egypt, he took us on eagle’s wings. עַל־כַּנְפֵ֣י נְשָׁרִ֔ים (Exodus 19: 4) And when Alan, you said something about riding that really conjured up that image to me, that if we are going to use an image, this is an image this (wings) has been there from the beginning. I do think that’s fascinating.
Alan Yodel 29:19
But what what is the ride then. What is the ride, you know?
Adam Mintz 29:23
Yeah, I just love that image of the ride. So, it takes the we said that it was, according to modern day scholarship, maybe the most easy explanation is a combination of two things. But all of those two things seem to have the wings because they have a face and they have wings. And you mentioned both you said face to face, and you also said the ride, and I do find that fascinating and I agree it’s, it’s you know, it’s a permissible image because I think it is a vivid, critical image to the narrative from the first verse of Genesis. Let’s go on a little bit more, because I did want to focus on the crafting pot, because we are in a parsha that literally repeats word for word what’s been said before, but it does it from the perspective of crafting. So this whole concept of a beaten work shall thou make it. מִקְשָׁה֙ תַּעֲשֶׂ֣ה אֹתָ֔ם Rashi on Exodus 25: 18 says, lay down a large mass of gold (lit., much gold) when thou beginnest to make the lid and beat upon the middle part of it (the gold) with a hammer or with a mallet, so that its ends will project upward (stand out in relief), and then shape the cherubim out of the projecting edges. So they literally took this piece of metal, and they hammered it; it had to have been from one piece. And he says in old French, “souder” And it says and in English that means to “solder”. So there you go. Okay.
Geoffrey Stern 29:50
And I was fascinated by that process, did that process make it something that then became kosher, as opposed to the molten image of pouring it? Just I just think fascinating stuff. The Ibn Ezra, when he says beaten work, he says beaten, כמו שוה it has to be equal? Well, one of the things that we really haven’t focused on is that you really don’t get just one Cherub, one angel, if you will, they’re always in pairs, and I’m reminded, and you know, we can’t get into all the material right now, we always try to finish on the half hour. But I am reminded, because some of the commentary say that the faces were the faces of a man and a woman looking at each other. And that brought up in my mind the, the commentary and why the first rendering of the creation of man was He created man, and in the second is he created a male and female. And one of the explanations was that when man was single, God was a worried that he would be “like one of us” that he would say, you’re single, I’m single, you’re unitary, you’re self-contained. I am too. And at that time, some of the commentary says he was androgynous. He had everything he could even replicate himself. And then the second part was, he was taken apart to be man, and woman. And that’s what that reminded me of that you’re taking this one piece of metal, and you’re making it in two, and those two are even men and women. I think it is a fascinating area of discussion. If you are fascinated as much as I am with it, you will look into the notes. Because one of the myths that has been broken, is and I’ve mentioned this before, there was a great Israeli scholar named Yehezkel Kaufmann. And he almost was he was impacted by the caricature that the Bible uses to describe idolatry. You know, it’s all based on stuff that you can find in Isaiah that says, How can a person make a god? How can a person a God, who is a piece of stone yesterday become a God today really, really makes fun of the artifice of making an idol? And one of the follow ups to that he has his own solution to the reason why in the Bible, it was a caricature. He argues that the children of Israel had progressed so much that they didn’t understand idolatry. But if you’ll see in the notes, we do now have renderings from Babylonia where they have discussions of the two or three or four days that it takes to make a god. And actually there was much more intentionality to it (and they echo the criticism of fashioning a god similar to the Hebrew prophets).. So, we’re not that far away. I do believe what it focuses on is the intentionality (and process) was critical here. And that’s what makes the whole subject so absolutely fascinating. I think we need to focus less on the image part, and more on the intention part and the lessons that have to be learned, and that will open up new worlds to us.
Adam Mintz 35:11
Great. That is a fascinating conversation today. Thank you, Alan. Thank you, Geoffrey. Next Thursday, I will be in Israel in route back home. So, Geoffrey is going to take Vayikra on his own. We look forward to a great week with everybody. Shabbat Shalom. And enjoy your week. Be Well, everybody.
Geoffrey Stern 35:33
Thank you so much. nesiah tova Rabbi, and we’ll miss you next week…. It’s just very fascinating to me that when we look at the quote unquote taboos, and we look at the quote unquote, things that one religion doesn’t do or ever does, you know, it’s like they always say what unites us is more than what divides us. And this is certainly a case, one of the scholarly articles that I quote, talks about, when Isaiah put down the Babylonians, he was just pissed that they at the temple was destroyed. And it was polemics in the old sense of the word. But we Jews also could breathe life into inanimate objects, make ourselves tablets of the law, and make ourselves Cherubim and spend an evening discussing what those two will be more.
Alan Yodel 36:34
Yeah, Geoffrey. Did he talk about the first instance of Cherubim at the Garden of Eden? because that’s really kind of interesting. I think.
Geoffrey Stern 36:51
Well absolutely. I did mention it in regard to who were the Cherubim. You know, for those who say they were little babies with innocent faces and wings on them. You have to go back to, to Genesis and to say, Well, what about the woods with the swords who were keeping us out of Eden? And I think, when I mentioned that, I used it as a segue to say that modern scholarship really feels that and I quote, an article that kind of surveys all of the literature and comes to this conclusion that it’s as much cherub is almost a generic word for a combination of two creatures. Because there are opinions in the rabbinic literature for sure that they were birds, that they were oxen with wings. I mean, the truth is, they all seem to have wings, because that’s what the verse says. They all seem to have faces, because that’s what the verse says. But what were those faces? Was it an ox? Was it a bird? Was it a guard? And, you know, we talked about the cherubim being kind of a way that God could transmit his voice through, but certainly there’s an aspect of them that guarded the Holy of Holies and guarded the, the Ark of the Covenant (as they guarded Eden).
Alan Yodel 38:22
Yeah, absolutely. So would you be up for taking a look at Genesis 3: 24 just the language of it is really interesting. I find
Geoffrey Stern 38:30
Well absolutely. So I have it here in the notes, and you know, it says וַיְגָ֖רֶשׁ אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֑ם garash is a wonderful word. It’s the same word as divorce. He exiled the human וַיַּשְׁכֵּן֩ מִקֶּ֨דֶם לְגַן־עֵ֜דֶן , and he was planted in the Garden of Eden and he put V’yashkem is almost planted אֶת־הַכְּרֻבִ֗ים these cherubim and he put a sword וְאֵ֨ת לַ֤הַט הַחֶ֙רֶב֙ הַמִּתְהַפֶּ֔כֶת I had never noticed that that’s very similar (grammatically) to the wings that I mentioned earlier in Genesis 1: 2, but it says וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת it’s fascinating and I had never noticed that before that these turning sword was turning in the same way as wings turn to God the way to the tree of life.
Alan Yodel 39:41
But I’m getting the feeling from the word and I might I might have it wrong הַמִּתְהַפֶּ֔כֶת it’s related to Hephech. (upside down, opposite) I’m getting a sense of motion also. Moving like the ride what we’re talking about basically,
Geoffrey Stern 39:58
well that’s what הַמִּתְהַפֶּ֔כֶת means the was the Spirit of God was hovering. And the whole thing was like a like a, like a winged animal that was like a hummingbird. Yes, yes, that’s my image of that combines both the sword and the wings,
Alan Yodel 40:16
right. הַמִּתְהַפֶּ֔כֶת, I’m getting a sense of movement, remember, we were talking about Cherubim had to do with ride or some movement from one place to another. So, I, you know, I’m just getting that sense of taking a look at Cherubim and in the sense of some kind of movement from one place to another, and then that word הַמִּתְהַפֶּ֔כֶת having to do again with something in movement. And then it says לִשְׁמֹ֕ר אֶת־דֶּ֖רֶךְ עֵ֥ץ הַֽחַיִּֽים not l’shmor et etz Chaim… so, you know it’s the path, you know, and in a way, the two Cherubim are in a way, watching over and, and protecting and the path, basically, the Derech, you know,
Geoffrey Stern 41:09
yep. And, you know, from that perspective, where they are over the Ark of the Covenant, and the fact that it was only visited once a year is a it’s a very rare path that’s taken very seriously. And there it is. I was struck by the sense that the Bible literally says that the voice of God is kind of projected through the two Cherubim, the it’s kind of given an audible pathway type of type of thing. I think it’s fascinating, but it’s fascinating that here we are Jews talking about an image. It’s just, it’s so counter, and I didn’t have a chance to really see how Islam deals with this. Because of course, you know, Islam when it comes to images, and I and both molten and fixed is Judaism on steroids. They have no flexibility in terms of that, and I give them credit for that. But I wonder how they deal with this, whether the Cherubim feature in the Quran, or in their tradition that I didn’t have time to explore
Alan Yodel 42:26
But in our sense of prophecy from my understanding and study of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s works, that the Cherbim were really a focal point, for the Nev’e’em, prophesy. So they really functioned I think on on that level of direction of prophecy, especially for Moshe Rabbeinu, I think,
Geoffrey Stern 42:50
yeah, and when you talk about focus, you can’t not talk about Kavanaah and direction. And, you know, this is where it comes from. But again, I have argued in prior podcasts and discussions, how I think that we Jews have lost a lot of body language that used to be a part of worship and stuff like that. And here we have physical objects that are a part of worship. And, you know, we’ve kind of so gotten into this cerebral sense of religion, and maybe because we’ve become kind of polemical, and whether it’s Christianity with the bowing, or the imaging that we pulled back from it, but it’s part of us, and there’s no question, you know, when I do yoga, if you want to keep your balance, you need to focus on a particular point space. Otherwise, you’d you fall down.
Alan Yodel 43:53
Absolutely. But also like in, you know, and, and many shuls, like, more kabbalistic type shuls you’re likely to see on the wall a Shiviti, you know, which is a meditation device, you know, it’s clearly a picture, but it’s clearly there to give you focus, you know,
Geoffrey Stern 44:12
yeah, but it’s less it’s less of a picture and it’s more words, but there’s no question about it. There’s merit there, it’s an area that needs further discussion, and further exploration by Jews who are not necessarily comfortable talking about images, not necessarily talking about, you know, body movements and breath and things like that. And I love it when you can’t ignore what the Torah says.
Alan Yodel 44:41
Geoffrey Stern 44:42
Anyway, it was great having you on board cup again. And thank you much so much for your insight, because I love the concept of riding on it. And I love bringing in the Merkava as well, so, Shabbat shalom. and we’ll see you all next week
Sefaria Source Sheet: https://www.sefaria.org/sheets/474160
Listen to last year’s vayakhel podcast: Jews with Tools
and last year’s Pekudei podcast: Temples with no cloud-cover