As the Torah describes in Parashat Teruma (25:20) and in Parashat Vayakhel (37:9), the ark in the Mishkan was covered by a piece of gold (kapporet) that featured two winged keruvim (cherubs) that faced one another.
The Keli Yakar (in Parashat Teruma) comments that the features of the keruvim allude to the qualities that are required of the religious leaders, those who “guard” the Torah, a role symbolized by the keruvim who hovered over the ark which contained the Torah. First, tradition teaches that the keruvim appeared as newborn infants, and thus represent innocence and purity. Those who assume the mantle of Torah leadership must strive for pristine innocence and pure goodness, like that of a newborn. Secondly, the Keli Yakar writes, the cherubs’ wings are described as directed upwards, towards the heavens. The Keli Yakar contends that this image symbolizes sincerity of motives. The human “keruvim,” those who wish to serve as guardians of the Torah, must be directed heavenward, driven and motivated by the pure, genuine desire to fulfill God’s will and ensure that His law is preserved and perpetuated. The Keli Yakar denounces those who teach and lead for the sake of personal honor, who use the role of “cherub” to further their own egotistical interests, rather than out of genuine concern for the Almighty’s honor.
Finally, the Keli Yakar writes, the two keruvim faced one another, symbolizing friendship and goodwill among people. The leaders, teachers and scholars we need are those who can turn their faces to one another with congeniality and warmth, who study and work with the aim of guiding and inspiring, rather than to compete, and who are able and willing to get along with others and take their concerns and ideas into consideration. The position of “guardian” requires the innocence of a child, but the selflessness and humility of a mature and especially refined adult.
Of course, these two elements – sincerity and harmonious interpersonal relationships – are very closely related to one another. If a person is sincere in his pursuit of Torah scholarship and leadership, and is not driven by a lust for respect or authority, he will more likely be inclined to bend and humbly submit to the wishes and opinions of other people, and to thus create peaceful relationships. By contrast, a person who is motived by personal interests is prone to waging unnecessary battles and stirring controversy in the pursuit of his selfish goals.
The Keli Yakar reminds us that Torah life must rest on this foundation of sincerity and peace, the honest and genuine desire to serve the Almighty, and a willingness to work harmoniously and selflessly with others in this lifelong endeavor.