Last week we observed a very interesting parallel between the Jews’ history, and the Temple’s structure. We noted that the Jews left animal worship behind them upon their Egyptian exodus. God led them through a desert by way of pillars of smoke and fire, while sustaining them miraculously with the Manna. They arrived at Sinai obtaining God’s Torah. These events are directly paralleled by the Temple’s design: the priests enter the Temple with the animal sacrifice behind them. Inside, they encounter smoke from the Incense Altar, fire from the Menorah, and bread set on the Showbread Table. These are all in service of the primary vessel, the Ark that houses God’s Torah. It too is cloaked by a Parochess curtain, as was Sinai cloaked in darkness, rain and cloud.
These phenomena of pillars of smoke, fire, and the Manna, were not simply conveniences, but precisely planned by God. Each served a lesson, not just for the Jews who left Egypt, but also for all future generations. So important are their lessons, they form the design of the Temple: God desired that the Egyptian, terrestrial journey mirror every man and woman’s internal journal. We all must leave our own “Egypt”. Life is a struggle to abandon our infantile and primitive natures, our own Egypt, and adhere to the truth, embodied by the Menorah’s light. And as we said, we temper our knowledge with our admission of our ignorance, conveyed by the Incense Altar’s cloud. And if we truly devote ourselves to this mission for which we were created, God’s Manna - His providence for our physical needs - will be readily found, just as it was prepared for the Jews. And just as the Manna was miraculous, we too will not understand how God provide as we engage more hours in Torah study than in work, but He does. God wishes that man devote himself more to study, than to accumulation of wealth. The Manna was actually commanded to be on display in the Temple as a proof of God’s ability to sustain us. Again we learn: the lessons of the desert are to be permanent lessons. Maimonides also teaches that for one who abandons the life of monetary concerns, devoting himself to study God’s Torah, God will provide his needs. (Mishneh Torah: Laws of Shmita and Yovale, 13:13)
As the Jews eventuated at Sinai to obtain the Torah, so too, the Temple’s focus is the Ark which houses the Torah. We are reminded daily of our true purpose: to arrive at an ever-increasing love of God. This may only be accomplished by studying His creation and His Torah. We therefore learn how essential it is that we are aware of our inner natures - our primitive and instinctual tendencies. We all possess them. These emotions and drives work on us each day. We must evaluate which urges rule us, understand their destructive natures, and abandon them, or satisfy them properly. But our minds are to rule our emotions, not the reverse. This too was exemplified by the Jews’ Passover sacrifice. Before being redeemed, they had to display their disbelief in the Egyptian animal god. For many, it was too strong a desire, and they perished with the Egyptians in Egypt. One cannot simultaneously adhere to God and an animal deity.
It ends up that all those ancient events are not quite so ancient. It would appear that God desired those events to embody mankind’s mission…in each generation. It follows that God commanded our recurring Jewish Holidays to set on permanent display these educational episodes. This journey applies to us all, and Temple is the permanent reminder. There are other similar laws. The new moon for example is said to wax and wane, teaching man that he too may decrease by sin, but like the moon, he may again wax to glow in his perfection. The Rabbis indicate that this is an actual purpose in the design of the moon’s orbital phases.
Our internal world is quite hidden, and rarely studied. Temple teaches that matters should be just the opposite: we must examine our natures, admitting our poor character traits, and work on improving them as outlined in the Torah. This is where the Keruvim come in.
The Keruvim, or cherubs, were the childlike, gold figurines, which form the Ark’s cover. Why were such images attached to the most prized of all Temple vessels housing God’s Torah? What do they have to do with the Torah? The Rabbis teach they were similar in design to an infant.
What is an infant? How is it distinguished? I believe cherubs are to embody man who is not yet distorted; he does not yet follow the instinctual, primitive and idolatrous emotions. He is innocent. Keruvim portray man in his yet, uncorrupted state: a child. This is what the knowledge of Torah (housed under the Keruvim) target. Man should return to that state where his emotions have no affect on him. Keruvim are the focus of the Temple, as man’s focus is to return to a state where he is similar to a child in this respect.
The zenith of man’s existence is when he is untainted with sin, as a child. But this is joined to his other spiritual element: his soul. Man has two missions, to free himself from his instinctual, and cleave to the intellectual, the world of wisdom. But they work hand in hand: man’s attachment to the world of wisdom, (the Tablets inside the Ark), is proportionate to how far he removes himself from the grips of his emotion, the Keruvim. The Ark’s dual nature of Tablets and Keruvim above, embody man’s dual nature of an intellectual and emotional being.
Although the ancient Jews made but one journey from Egypt to Sinai on the ground, all Jews must journey from “Egypt to Sinai” each and every day.