This week I want to look at the haftorah, the story of Shlomo dedicating the בית המקדש:
That’s an unexpected detail: ויבאו הכהנים את ארון ברית ה׳…אל תחת כנפי הכרובים. The כרובים were part of the cover of the ארון. We have to go back to find a frankly weird detail:
There’s some more detail in דברי הימים:
So Shlomo built these huge statues to put in the קודש הקדשים. What did they look like? We know they had faces and wings. We have other hints from תנ״ך:
So כרובים are images of winged people, winged lions, winged oxen, winged vultures (or maybe winged snakes—dragons. We’ve talked about that before) and combinations of those. Here’s how the Temple Institute envisions it:
And that’s not only weird, it’s illegal:
And that was the mistake that led to the עגל הזהב:
And in this week’s parasha, the text keeps emphasizing that every little detail was אשר צוה ה׳:
So we have to assume that Shlomo built everything in the מקדש on instructions from a נביא:
What’s interesting is that the נביא never spoke to him, since he had been dead for more than 40 years:
But these cherub statues are still weird. And they existed in some form in the second מקדש as well:
The מפרשים understand that this refers to the Romans, and the images of cherubs on the walls:
Why? Why have these graven images, the very definition of עבודה זרה, in the holiest place? The key is to realize what they symbolize:
The כרובים represent the מרכבה, that which “carries” the שכינה in the world. That’s why they are on the ארון. And it is the mission of בני ישראל to carry the שכינה into the world:
The כרובים aren’t graven images of G-d. They are images of us, placed into the קודש הקדשים.
So why the giant statues in the בית המקדש? I think that this is part of the role of the בית המקדש. These כרובים are bigger, and they don’t face each other, they face outward. The wings spread out to fill the entire space. Building the בית המקדש is supposed to be the start of בני ישראל's true mission, to be an אור לגוים. כי מציון תצא תורה. Once we’ve established a ממלכת משפט וצדקה (see שמואל ב ח:טו) we can spread our wings and go out into the larger world, carrying the שכינה with us.