The Ark, Its Covering, and the Keruvim

  • Rav Shimon Klein

Introduction

 

God tells Moshe, "And I will meet with you there and speak with you from above the covering, from between the two keruvim which are upon the Ark of the Testimony" (Shemot 25:22).[1] It was here that the encounter took place; it was here that the Divine Presence was installed – in the Kodesh Kodashim[2] and it was from here that it ultimately departed, just prior to the destruction of the Temple.[3]

 

Do the Ark and the keruvim symbolize the Divine domain or the domain of the people? Why is there a need for the Ark? Is it nothing more than a receptacle in which to store the Tablets of Testimony? What is the function of the covering and of the keruvim? Beyond all of these details, this unit introduces a process over the course of which vessels are built, creating a system through which God meets with Moshe. We would expect to identify, somewhere in this unit, something of the nature of the process that concludes with the Dweller of the House declaring, "It is here that I will come to meet."

 

The Talmud teaches: "The Divine Presence never descended lower than a height of ten tefachim (handbreadths), nor did man ever ascend higher than ten tefachim" (Sukka 5a). As proof of the first clause, our Sages cite the verse, "And I shall meet with you there and speak with you from above the covering." God speaks with Moshe from above the covering, not any lower. Its height, taken in conjunction with the Ark upon which it rests, is ten tefachim – thus supporting the conclusion that "the Divine Presence never descended lower than ten tefachim." This conclusion is somewhat startling, since the area of the lowest ten tefachim, from the ground up, is the place of the Ark, which houses the Tablets of Testimony, symbolizing the Torah. Thus, the principle that the Divine Presence does not occupy the bottom ten tefachim may be interpreted to mean that it never reached the place of the Ark and the Torah. Is this indeed the case? Is the place of Torah not the place of the Divine Presence? What is the significance of the sharp differentiation between the space of the Ark and its covering, on the one hand, and the space of the keruvim, on the other?

 

In this shiur,we will try to understand what the gemara is telling us[4] and how this principle is anchored in the Written Law.

 

An Initial Review

 

Let us begin with a preliminary review of the content of the parasha and its structure.

 

The first unit includes a command to build the Ark and its various parts and to place the Testimony inside it:

 

And they shall make an Ark of shittim wood, two and a half cubits in length, and a cubit and a half in breadth, and a cubit and a half in height. And you shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it, and you shall make upon it a rim of gold round about. And you shall cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in its four corners, and two rings shall be on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. And you shall make poles of shittim wood and overlay them with gold. And you shall place the poles into the rings on the sides of the Ark, that the Ark may be carried using them. The poles shall be in the rings of the Ark; they shall not be taken from it. And you shall place into the Ark the Testimony which I shall give you. (Shemot 25:10-16)

 

Seven verses describe the fashioning of the Ark and its accessories. The Ark is a receptacle; along with it there are gold overlays, four gold rings, and poles made of shittim wood. Finally, in the last verse, the text describes the placing of the Testimony given to Moshe by God.

 

A second unit deals with the command to make the covering and the keruvim:

 

And you shall make a covering of pure gold, two and a half cubits in length and a cubit and a half in breadth. And you shall make two keruvim of gold; of a solid piece [miksha, alternatively translated as "of beaten work"] shall you make them, at the two ends of the covering. And you shall make one keruv on the one end and the other keruv on the other end; of the covering shall you make the keruvim on the two ends of it. (ibid. 17-19)

 

There are two discrete instructions here, given in succession. One concerns the fashioning of the covering; the other concerns the keruvim. At this stage, the description is still somewhat obscure: we do not yet know what the function of these additional elements is. This will become apparent only later on.

 

A third unit defines the relationship and the nature of the interaction between the different parts:

 

And the keruvim shall stretch out their wings on high, shading the covering with their wings, and their faces shall look to one another; towards the covering shall be the faces of the keruvim. And you shall place the covering above, upon the Ark, and in the Ark you shall place the Testimony which I shall give you. (ibid. 20-21)

 

The keruvim will have their wings spread, such that they shade the covering with their wings, and there is something that happens between them – "and their faces shall look to one another." Their faces are towards the covering, the covering is placed upon the Ark, and it is in the Ark that the Testimony "which I shall give you" is to be placed.

 

A fourth unit mentions God's meeting and message with Moshe to convey to Bnei Yisrael:

 

And I shall meet with you there, and I will speak with you from above the covering, from between the two keruvim which are upon the Ark of the Testimony, of all things which I will command you for Bnei Yisrael. (ibid. 22)

This conclusion describes the purpose of the entire system that has been set forth: "I shall meet with you there…" The place of meeting will be there, connected to and dependent on the context in its entirety: "from above the covering,” "from between the two keruvim,” "which are upon the Ark of Testimony."

 

A Measurement that is not a Measurement

 

Our parasha contains work instructions as well as dimensions. Concerning the Ark itself we read:

 

And they shall make an Ark of shittim wood, two and a half cubits in length, and a cubit and a half in breadth, and a cubit and a half in height. (25:10)

 

Its dimensions are length, breadth, and height. The dimensions of the covering are likewise specified:

 

And you shall make a covering of pure gold, two and a half cubits in length and a cubit and a half in breadth. (ibid. 17)

 

The covering is two-dimensional; there is no measurement of height. The keruvim, in contrast to both of the previous elements, are described without any dimensions at all:

 

And you shall make two keruvim of gold; of a solid piece shall you make them, at the two ends of the covering. (ibid. 18)

 

What is the meaning of this omission? What is the significance of a stipulation of measurement for any vessel or object? A measurement signifies physical existence in space. It is the framework within which the object exists and functions. The dimensions of a vessel – an object that is used for some purpose – define its content, which is the basis for any use that may be made of it.

 

The Ark is a vessel, and as such it rests upon the laws of nature. The stipulation of its measurements in three dimensions (length, breadth, height) is quite understandable. The covering is described in two dimensions, with no mention of height. We might suggest that in this sense, the covering serves as a link between the Ark and the keruvim that are atop it. In terms of the Talmudic teaching cited above, the covering is located on the seam between the lower ten tefachim and those above. The omission of any mention of its height thus creates opacity in the dimension, which is actually its essence. This opacity facilitates a degree of abstraction.

 

The keruvim are the site of the encounter. In other contexts, they are accompanied by cloud or thick darkness,[5] which dull the physical sense of sight, thereby facilitating an encounter with a world that is beyond the tangible. The keruvim are the place of the abstract, spiritual Divine Presence, and as such, the text is silent as to their boundaries and measurements. The encounter with God takes place where the vessel is abstract and spiritual in nature.

 

We will now take a closer look at these verses.

 

The Ark vs. The Testimony

 

And they shall make an Ark of shittim wood, two and a half cubits in length, and a cubit and a half in breadth, and a cubit and a half in height. And you shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and outside shall you overlay it, and you shall make upon it a rim of gold round about. And you shall cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in its four corners, and two rings shall be on the one side of it, and two rings on the other side of it. And you shall make poles of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold. And you shall place the poles into the rings on the sides of the Ark, that the Ark may be carried using them. The poles shall be in the rings of the Ark; they shall not be taken from it. And you shall place into the Ark (ve-natata el ha-aron) the Testimony which I shall give you.

 

The order of the building of the Ark is from the inside outwards. First the Ark is built from shittim wood. Thereafter it is overlaid inside and outside with pure gold and a golden rim is fashioned around the top. Four rings are placed, two at each side, and poles of shittim wood are slotted through these rings – "They shall not be taken from it."[6] Finally, after the receptacle is complete, the Testimony is placed in the Ark. What is the significance of this structure? We do not yet know.

 

The expression "ve-natata el ha-aron" is interesting; it signifies not so much a "placing within" as a "giving to," transferring to its domain, as it were.[7] This transfer matches the message arising from the description as a whole, which suggests that the Ark is important. Seven verses are devoted to its construction before the Testimony can be placed inside it. In the following stages, its importance is similarly evident.

 

What is "testimony"? A witness comes to the beit din and offers testimony. He thereby serves as a mouthpiece, mediating between a reality that took place and the judges. The testimony brings the reality as it was, upholding it in human consciousness. Our Sages identify the "Testimony" that is "given to the Ark" as the Tablets of Testimony that are placed within it,[8] with these serving as testimony to God's word in the Ten Commandments. Eventually, the entire Torah came to be called "edut" (testimony or testament): "God's Torah is perfect, restoring the soul; God's Testament is sure, making wise the simple" (Tehillim 19:8). Bnei Yisrael, too, are referred to as "edim" – witnesses: "You are My witnesses, says God" (Yeshayahu 43:10, 12), for through their lives and their values they convey God's word to the world.

 

As noted, the Testimony joins the Ark, the space which contains it, and at this stage a first cycle in the parasha is completed – the construction of a space in which the Testimony is placed.

 

Construction of Vessels – The Covering and the Keruvim

 

And you shall make a covering (kaporet) of pure gold, two and a half cubits in length, and a cubit and a half in breadth. (Shemot 25:17)

 

The meaning of the word "kaporet" is deduced from the command to Noach, who must make an ark of gofer wood and "cover (ve-khafarta, from the same root, k-p-r) inside and outside with pitch" (Bereishit 6:14). The concept of "kapara" (atonement) in relation to sin likewise alludes to a "covering" of the sin; it allows a person to move forward without being disturbed by its ugly presence.[9]

 

What is covered by the kaporet? At this stage, the text does not state the answer explicitly, but the context – the fact that it follows immediately on from the description of the Ark – suggests a connection between them. Further on, the connection will be clarified: "And you shall place the covering above, upon the Ark" (Shemot 25:21). The kaporet covers the Ark.

 

As a preliminary observation, the covering may be viewed as creating a space of sorts. The Testimony is placed in a receptacle – the Ark – and now a cover is added, creating a closed space that is a domain unto itself. However, the nature of this domain and its purpose are as yet unclear.

 

And you shall make two, keruvim of gold (shenayim, keruvim); of a solid piece shall you make them, at the two ends of the covering.

 

And you shall make one keruv on the one end, and the other keruv on the other end; of the covering shall you make the keruvim on the two ends of it. (18-19)

 

These verses introduce a startling reality: as in the case of the Ark and the covering, there is first the command – "you shall make" – but this time we suddenly encounter a number – "two" (shenayim). The stipulation of the ordinal number right at the start serves to make this the focus,[10] especially since the usual syntax here would be "shenei keruvim." What is conveyed by the number two? Duality, multiplicity – not a connected oneness. The fact that in describing the place where the Divine Presence will rest the text demands "two" is perplexing.[11]

 

The next word, "keruvim," is no less startling. "Keruvim – like two children," explains Ibn Ezra; alternatively, "faces of infants," as R. Abahu teaches in the gemara (Sukka 5b), based on the Aramaic word for babies. Another interpretation is "like a man embracing a woman."[12]

 

As noted, the keruvim have no set dimensions, and in this respect, too, they belong to no definition or framework.

 

Literary Structure

 

Attention should be paid to the literary structure of the unit describing the keruvim, which is the inverse of the structure found in the description of the Ark and of the covering.

 

We have already noted the fact that the command to build the Ark moves from the inside outward – from the Ark itself, to the coating, the rings, the poles, the Testimony which is brought from the outside and placed in it, and then the covering. Suddenly, we are now faced with "two, keruvim" – two winged creatures that appear, as it were, from nowhere. Now the text goes about "softening" the shock: step by step it connects them backwards. First it describes the connection between the keruvim themselves, and then it systematically links them with the larger picture, until finally the connection between them and the Ark becomes clear. The process unfolds as follows:

 

a.          "Of a solid piece shall you make them" – In contrast to the "two" with which the description began, it now turns out that the keruvim are actually of the same, single piece. Thus, the text sets our mind at rest, linking them back to the "One." At this stage the keruvim are related to themselves, not to anything else.

b.          "At the two ends of the covering" – While there is no indication of the dimensions of the keruvim, the text does specify their location: from the two ends of the covering, inwards. In other words, their length and breadth are the same as the dimensions of the covering.[13]

c.           "And you shall make one keruv on the one end and the other keruv on the other end" – This description once again connects the dimensions of the keruvim to those of the covering, but in contrast to the unifying image of the "solid piece," each keruv is now treated individually, taking its place at one end of the covering. The wondrous "two," whose power lay in duality, are now each affiliated independently with the dimensions of the covering.

d.          "Of the covering shall you make the keruvim" – Thus far, the position of the keruvim has been connected to the dimensions of the covering. Now we discover that their connection to the covering is far more significant; they are hewed from it, as it were. There is the single sheet of gold of the covering, from which the keruvim are formed.

e.          "On the two ends of it (al shenei ketzotav)"[14] – The two ends of what? Had the reference been to the covering (kaporet – a feminine noun), the expression would have read, "al shenei tezoteiha." The masculine reference takes us back to the Ark (aron – a masculine noun). Thus, the text now connects the dimensions of the keruvim to the Ark, "on the two ends of it."[15]

 

Significance of the Structure

 

Infants, birds (winged creatures), or "a man and a woman" are all images signifying life. This is not the description of a "religious object;" it is not a book with letters. It is a powerful symbol of life, very different from all that has preceded it. Unlike the Ark, which has dimensions and boundaries and which serves as a receptacle for the Divine Testimony, the "two, keruvim" are a manifestation of life.

 

The text presents a contrast between the Ark and the keruvim. The Ark is a receptacle; inside it is the Testimony, Torah. The keruvim, on the other hand, are "life." The fashioning of the Ark is described step by step, in a systematic expansion. The keruvim, in contrast, make a sudden appearance, symbolizing a powerful vitality that is not bound to any laws. Their number, two, introduces a tension between two poles. Two children, a man and a woman, or any "two" that stand facing one another produce a dynamic tension and a constant flux arising from the charged "field" between them.

 

This erupting vitality is at first inconceivable, it is not bound by any measurements or frameworks, and it may be threatening. The second stage is essentially one of processing. There is a new phenomenon, and we now examine its nature. Step by step, as though the text is moving backwards, the connections are identified. First there is the connection to the "single piece," then to the dimensions of the covering, then a focus on each keruv belonging to itself and its flowing from the covering itself; finally, it is linked to the dimensions of the Ark (inside which is the Testimony).[16]

 

In the Midst of it All – An Event

 

Up until this point, the text has discussed three vessels, the commands to fashion them, and the initial definitions arising from them (the connection of the keruvim to the covering and to the Ark focused on the elements themselves, rather than what is created among them). Now we move on to the essence – the relationship between the different parts:

 

And the keruvim shall stretch out their wings on high, shading the covering with their wings, and their faces shall look to one another; towards the covering shall be the faces of the keruvim.

 

And you shall place the covering above, upon the Ark, and in the Ark you shall place the Testimony which I shall give you. (Shemot 25:20-21)

 

In these verses, the text duplicates the literary structure that it followed in the command concerning the keruvim. There, Moshe had commanded an intangible, unimaginable reality, and then worked backwards to connect it with what was already known and familiar. Here, we find a similar structure, with the subject being the essence of and interaction between the different elements.

 

This unit begins with the description of the keruvim (verse 20), followed by the placing of the covering (beginning of verse 21), and finally a focus on the Ark (end of 21). This order is puzzling for two reasons. First, this is the reverse of the order to create the vessels, where there appeared first the Ark, then the covering, and only then the keruvim. Moreover, the order does not seem logical: the text describes keruvim with wings spread, shading the covering and facing one another, and then we suddenly discover that they are not yet connected at their base (the covering) to the Ark, for immediately thereafter Moshe commands, "And you shall place the covering above, upon the Ark." The final phrase only exacerbates the difficulty: "And in the Ark you shall place the Testimony which I shall give you." If the covering has already been placed upon the Ark (in the first part of the verse), such that it is already covered and closed, how can the Testimony now be placed inside?

 

How much simpler and more logical it would be for this unit to follow the reverse order: first to place the Testimony in the Ark, then to cover the Ark with the covering, and then to move on to the keruvim, which face the covering from which they are formed. Thereafter, they raise their faces towards one another, shading the covering – i.e., still connected to their source – and finally, raise their wings upward!

 

However, the text turns things upside down, ignoring logic. The explanation of this would seem to be as follows: The structure of this unit continues the literary structure of the description of the keruvim. The keruvim symbolize a movement and manifestation of life; they are animated by a life pulse, as it were, within themselves, rather than the result of some earlier stage or process. While their existence cannot be devoid of any description, the description is not the essence of the process here. The rules and frameworks "facilitate" rather than "bring about" the keruvim. This being the case, the text starts off at the climax, and then works backwards to the stages and conditions that make this phenomenon possible.

 

The point of departure is the end point – the keruvim. "And the keruvim shall stretch out their wings on high" – they stretch their wings towards a world that lies beyond, towards a spirituality in which there is upward movement unrestricted by the limitations of this world and its conventions.

 

At the same time, they "shade the covering with their wings." The spirituality creates a covered space; through their shading, they create a place where an event may take place. The noting of the covering, the basis upon which they stand, is important, but it will be treated more fully only in the next section. The text then goes on to retrace its steps: "And their faces shall look to one another; towards the covering shall be the faces of the keruvim." The keruvim face one another; there is loving friendship between them. This loving friendship serves as the basis for the spirituality described previously.

 

"Towards the covering shall be the faces of the keruvim" – this is the second time that the text describes a movement of life, and then connects it backward to the covering. First the keruvim "spread their wings" and the text connects the resulting "shade" or space to the covering; now the keruvim face one another, and the text immediately connects this orientation with a previous one – towards the covering. As noted, the discussion of the covering itself is postponed until the next chapter.

 

Following these two glances towards the covering, the text comes back to noting its function: "And you shall place (ve-natata, literally, give) the covering above the Ark, upon it." The covering is "given," implying its belonging to that place.[17] The ending, "upon it" (literally, "from above") is seemingly redundant, for it is clear that giving the covering onto the Ark means that it is now located above it. Seemingly, the expression comes to rule out a scenario in which it is placed once and then becomes a permanent part of the Ark. The covering is a vessel in its own right, and it is "given upon the Ark" – not "above" (le-ma'la), as an indication of place, but rather "from above" (mi-le-ma'la) downward, to the place where it rests. The instruction to cover the Ark with the covering is thus understood as something that is not self-evident; it is a constant instruction that the covering be placed upon the Ark, over and over again.

 

What purpose is served by the covering, this "kaporet," this "kefira"? The answer is to be found in the continuation of the verse: "And in the Ark you shall place the Testimony which I shall give you." It turns out that the covering of the Ark is in fact a covering for the space in which the Testimony rests.

 

To summarize thus far: the unit we have discussed has two poles. It is introduced by two keruvim, their wings spread, shading and creating a living space; they face one another and embody the story of life. At the other pole, there is the Testimony; it testifies to Divine law and is not subject to change. It is a statute and Torah for all generations.

 

And what separates the two? The covering.

 

We will now take a closer look at the covering itself. Initially we identify two spheres demarcated in the verses below.

 

The Story of the Covering

 

And the keruvim shall stretch out their wings on high, shading the covering with their wings, and their faces shall look to one another; towards the covering shall be the faces of the keruvim.

 

And you shall place the covering above, upon the Ark, and in the Ark you shall place the Testimony which I shall give you. (Shemot 25:20-21)

 

The first verse describes the keruvim stretching their wings and shading, thereby describing a space that stretches from the edges of their wings to the covering that is at their feet. Something happens in this space: the keruvim meet, "their faces looking to one another," and later on it is here that God's word will be addressed to Moshe, "from between the two keruvim."

 

The second verse likewise describes a space: "You shall place the covering above, upon the Ark." This creates a closed space. The Testimony has already been placed in the Ark: "And in the Ark you shall place (literally, "give") the Testimony which I shall give you" – thus, the placing of the covering serves to create a closed space for the Testimony.

 

These two spaces are described in two verses, and the status of the covering is now clarified as being the separation between them.

 

We posed the question: what is the meaning of the "shading" that is directed towards the covering ("shading the covering with their wings")? We see now that the wings of the keruvim define the space from above, while the covering defines it from below; in the middle is a sort of protected space. The noting of the covering in this context may be understood as indicating that the presence of the covering allows this protected space to exist.

 

This would also explain the additional noting of the faces of the keruvim as being directed towards the covering. It is to be understood as a condition: when the faces of the keruvim are directed towards the covering, with an awareness of its function as covering the Ark, then there can be a proper mutual gazing; "Their faces shall look to one another."

 

In the background is the fact that beneath the covering are the Tablets of the Covenant, the Divine Testimony given to the nation at the Revelation at Sinai. How loaded this Divine writ is,[18] and how important it would seem that it should fill the space above. But the covering is placed on the Ark, creating a barrier. With a constant movement of covering from above, it demarcates the Divine law, limiting it to the dimensions of the Ark, thereby allowing what happens in the space above it to take place.

 

Two Spaces in the Oral Law

 

In Massekhet Sukka, we find the teaching:[19]

The Ark was nine handbreadths high, and the covering was one handbreadth, making a total of ten handbreadths, and it is written, “And I will meet with you there, and I will speak with you from above the covering” (Shemot 25). And it has been taught: R. Yossi stated: The Divine Presence never descended to earth, nor did Moshe or Eliyahu ever ascend to Heaven, as it is written, “The heavens are the heavens of God, but the earth He has given to the sons of men” (Tehillim 115)

 

The gemara uses the description of God's meeting with Moshe to deduce an important principle. Just as the meeting in the Holy of Holies took place above the covering – i.e., at a height above ten handbreadths – so the Divine Presence is always found above that level; it never descends any lower. Conversely, a person cannot ascend higher than ten handbreadths – even Moshe and Eliyahu, who – according to the plain reading of the text – are described as ascending to heaven.

 

Underlying this teaching is the verse from Tehillim, "The heavens are the heavens of God, but the earth He has given to the sons of men." There is a division between the heavens – the realm of God and of spirituality – and the earth – the realm of human beings, where God does not enter.

 

The heavens are high up, abstract, unlimited; they do not rest upon or receive support from the earth and its vessels.[20] The earth is a place in which reality is tangible and confined within vessels and frameworks. Dependence on a vessel, or resting upon it, means being bound by its dimensions.

 

God does not descend into our limiting reality; He does not rest upon its constricting laws. Man, in contrast, cannot rise higher than ten handbreadths: he cannot sever himself from dependence on vessels. He cannot encounter absolute abstraction.

 

There are two spaces in the Kodesh Kodashim, very different from one another. One is the space of the Ark; the other is the space of the Divine Presence. The lower space is within the ten handbreadths, with the Ark serving as its framework – measurable in length, breadth, and height. It is joined by the covering, which is likewise measurable, in length and breadth (its height is omitted, owing to its connection with the keruvim above it). Inside is the Testimony – the symbol of God's fixed and unchanging law, which sets down the proper frameworks and rules for the world. This Divine law is not a place of meeting; it is not the place of the Divine Presence, which is not subject to or measured by vessels and rules.

 

The other space is the place of the keruvim. In contrast to the other space, whose sides are the physical walls of the Ark and its covering, the space of the keruvim has no sides. Two keruvim spread their wings, shading and creating a space between them. Its content is "their faces looking to one another," and the "being" that happens there ("and the keruvim shall be…,” "and the faces of the keruvim shall be…"). The Divine Presence remaining above ten handbreadths means a meeting with God in the expanse of life, in which man is present, animated by it and its inner essence, with an expression of its spirituality.

 

In between the two spaces there is the covering, representing a barrier between that which is measurable and that which is not; between law and life.

 

"And I shall meet with you there"

 

"And I shall meet with you there,

and I will speak with you from above the covering,

from between the two keruvim which are upon the Ark of the Testimony,

of all things which I will command you for Bnei Yisrael."

 

"And I shall meet with you there" – This is the purpose of the entirety that has been described: a meeting. Reference to it "there" serves to create a sort of distancing from the physical embodiment that will accompany it.

 

"And I shall speak with you from above the covering" – The speech will be from above the covering. This covering separates the two spaces, according each its proper importance.

 

"From between the two keruvim" – From the space in between them. First the keruvim are described as facing one another; now, it is to that place of encounter between them, to that space that is created between them, that God will come, and from there He will speak to Moshe.

 

"Which are upon the Ark of Testimony" – The final link is the Ark of Testimony. It is above the space where Torah exists, that the encounter with the Divine Presence takes place. If there is no place of Torah, there will be no place for the encounter.

 

"Of all things which I will command you for Bnei Yisrael" – God meets with Moshe, but the story of the encounter is not a private, personal one. It is through Moshe that God commands Bnei Yisrael, thereby testifying, as it were, to the event as a whole: the encounter between God and Israel, His people.

 

 

Translated by Kaeren Fish

 



[1]In a parallel unit, we read, "And when Moshe came into the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, then he heard the voice speaking to him from above the covering that was upon the Ark of the Testimony, from between the two keruvim, and it spoke to him" (Bamidbar 7:89).

[2]"And the kohanim brought the Ark of God's Covenant to its place, into the sanctuary of the House, to the Kodesh Kodashim, under the wings of the keruvim… and it was, when the kohanim came out of the Kodesh, that the cloud filled the house of God. And the kohanim could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of God filled the house of God. Then Shlomo said: 'God said that He would dwell in the thick darkness…'" (Melakhim I 8:6-12).

[3] As described in a prophecy of Yechezkel in the image of the taking of fire from between the keruvim, the ascent of God's glory, and the departure from the Temple. The keruvim, with their wings spread, are described as exiting the Temple area stage by stage: "And He spoke to the man clothed in linen, and said: Go in between the wheelwork, under the keruv, and fill your hands with coals of fire from between the keruvim, and scatter them over the city. And he went in in my sight… Then the glory of God went up from the keruv and stood above the threshold of the house, and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was full of the brightness of God's glory… And the keruvim were raised up… And the glory of God departed from above the threshold of the house, and stood over the keruvim. And the keruvim lifted their wings and were raised up from the earth in my sight, when they went out, with the wheels beside them, and each stood at the door of the east gate of God's house, and the glory of the God of Israel was over above them" (Yechezkel 10:2-19).

[4] Many insights included in this shiur are derived from in-depth study of this teaching.

[5]When the Ark is brought into Shlomo's Temple, the text describes the keruvim as well as the cloud within which God's Presence is to dwell: "And the kohanim brought the Ark of God's Covenant into its place, into the sanctuary of the House, to the kodesh kodashim, under the wings of the keruvim… And it was, when the kohanim came out of the kodesh, that the cloud filled the House of God, so that the kohanim could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of God had filled the House of God. Then Shlomo said, ‘God said that He would dwell in the thick darkness.’" (Melakhim I 8:12)

[6] Even during times when the Divine Presence dwells in the land, such as during the period of Shlomo's Temple, the poles, whose function is to carry the Ark, must not be separated from it. The Ark is always ready to journey; this characteristic is part of its intrinsic nature. The Divine Presence is not unchangeably and permanently stationed in the land; it is always conditional and not self-evident.

[7] There is another "giving" mentioned in this verse: "which I shall give to you" – i.e., which God will give to Moshe. Thus, the verse describes two transfers into different domains: the Testimony passes from Moshe into the Ark, into its domain; prior to this it is meant to pass from God to Moshe's domain. This covert comparison between the "giving" to Moshe and the “giving" to the Ark serves to empower the identity of the Ark as a subject, as a space into which the Testimony is given.

[8] This is stated explicitly in the verses from Sefer Melakhim: "There was nothing in the Ark except for the two Tablets of stone which Moshe placed there in Chorev, when God made a covenant with Bnei Yisrael when they came out of the land of Egypt" (Melakhim I 8:9). Chazal teach, "R. Yehuda said… [both] the Tablets and the broken [first set of] Tablets were placed in the Ark" (Berakhot 8b). It should also be noted that in several places in Tanakh, the Tablets of the Covenant are referred to as the "Testimony": "And He gave to Moshe, when He was finished speaking to him at Mount Sinai, the two Tablets of Testimony, tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God" (Shemot 31:18). The second set of tablets is also referred to by this name (Shemot 34:29).

[9]"Kapara" does not mean an erasing or nullification of the impression of the sin. The concept of "tahara" (purification) entails a more significant grappling and correction.

[10] Another instance in which the number two is brought forward to the beginning of the verse is Devarim 17:6 – "By the word of two witnesses (shenayim edim) or three witnesses shall he who is deserving of death, be put to death; he shall not be put to death by the word of one witness" (Devarim 17:6). Here too, the early appearance of the number two seems to reflect a fundamental fact.

[11] Had this "twoness" symbolized the connection between God and His people, it would have been less of a conceptual challenge, but as we shall see, this is not the case.

[12] The gemara comments on a verse that appears as part of the description of the vessels fashioned by Shlomo for the Temple:According to the space of each (ke-ma'ar ish), with wreathes (ve-loyot) round about” (Melakhim I 7:36): What is the meaning of the expression, “ke-ma'ar ish ve-loyot”?Rabba son of R. Shila, said:Like a man embracing his consort [from the Hebrew root meaning “to escort” or “to accompany”]. Resh Lakish said: When the heathens entered the Temple and saw the keruvim, whose bodies were embracing one another, they carried them out into the open and said: These Israelites, whose blessing is a blessing, and whose curse is a curse, occupy themselves with such things?! And immediately they despised them, as it is said: All that honored her, despised her, because they have seen her nakedness’" (Yoma 54a).

[13] Had the text described them as stretching "to the two ends of the covering," the image would have been from the inside outward, with the “ends” delimiting them, perhaps artificially halting their innately movement of expansion. Instead, the description is one of natural adaptation, as though the keruvim adhere to the dimensions of the covering, and the movement is an inward one, towards their place.

[14] See: "It shall have its two shoulder-pieces joined at its two edges (el shenei ketzotav), as so it shall be joined together" (Shemot 28:7).

[15] "On the two ends of it (al shenei ketzotav)," as opposed to the expression connecting the keruvim with the covering – "at the two ends (mi-shenei ketzot) of the covering." While the latter describes a point of departure and movement from it (inward), the former is a description of correlation, at a certain distance.

[16] Rav Kook seems to maintain a dialogue with this idea in his Orot Ha-Techiya, par. 2, where he describes a natural, instinctive drive for spiritual survival, paralleling the physical survival instinct. This primal drive precedes any philosophical inquiry or contemplation of its importance; the explanations of the process arise only after the manifestation of this pure will.

[17] It is interesting to note the discrepancy between the two positions described in relation to the keruvim using the verb "to be" ("and the keruvim shall stretch out their wings [literally, "the keruvim shall be of stretched wings"] on high"; "towards the covering shall be the faces of the keruvim"), and the actions described in relation to the covering and the Ark ("you shall give the covering above the Ark, upon it," "and [in]to the Ark you shall give the Testimony which I shall give to you"). Concerning the keruvim, there is "being;" concerning the covering and the Ark there is "giving." This discrepancy is an expression of the gap between the vitality of life that exists between the keruvim and the law and order that prevails in the place of the Ark.

[18] "God said to Moshe: ‘Hew for yourself two tablets of stone, like the first ones, and I will write upon these tablets the words that were upon the first tablets, which you broke’" (Shemot 34:1).

[19] The issue that the gemara is addressing here is the halakha codified in the mishna, according to which a sukka that is less than ten tefachim (handbreadths) high is invalid. The basis for this is that God met with Moshe above the covering, which is located at a height of ten tefachim; from this R. Yossi deduces the principle that the Divine Presence does not descend lower than a height of ten tefachim. Correspondingly, the Divine Presence rests above the sekhakh (roof covering) of the sukka; if the sekhakh is any lower than ten tefachim high, the Divine Presence would enter the lower ten tefachim, which is impossible.

[20] The way of the world is that the lower something is, the greater its dependence on its place, the more difficult its movement from one place to another, and the more limitations confine it. An upward movement liberates things from vessels and boundaries. The higher one goes, the clearer the air and the horizon, and movement from one place to another becomes easier.