parasha

Naso 5778

A Full Partnership
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites
In this week’s Torah portion, Naso, we read about the festive day when the Tabernacle was dedicated, after everything that was placed in it that was donated by the people. The Tabernacle was the temporary temple that accompanied the Jewish nation when it wandered the desert until the permanent Temple was established in Jerusalem. On the day of the dedication, the twelve leaders of the tribes brought offerings and special donations, with which they dedicated the Tabernacle, and then Moses entered.
At this point, there is a verse that does not deal only with this day, but describes the manner in which Moses merited occasional Divine revelations when he heard Godly commandments that were later in written in the Torah and are known as the “mitzvot”:
When Moses would come into the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, he would hear the voice speaking to him from the two cherubim above the covering which was over the Ark of Testimony, and He spoke to him.
(Numbers 7, 89)

In order to understand this description, we must remember what was situated in the Holy of Holies – the inner and most sacred part of the Tabernacle; the Ark, called the Ark of the Covenant, because it contained the Tablets of the Covenant that Moses received from God on Mount Sinai, the cover of the Ark, called “kaporet”, and above it two “cherubs” – images of a boy and girl facing one another with wings spread over the kaporet.
What do the cherubs represent? A wonderful description appearing in the Talmud teaches us the surprising meaning of the cherubs:
“When the Israelites went on their pilgrimage, the “parochet” was rolled up (that was at the entrance to the Holy of Holies) and they would be shown the cherubs that were engaged with one another, and they were told: Look at their fondness before the Place (God) as the fondness of a man for a woman.
(Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yoma, page 54)
From this description we see that the two cherubs symbolized the special connection between God and the Jewish people; a relationship of love, and a deep bond, represented in the imagery of young lovers.
Now let’s return to the verse with which we began. Moses experienced a Divine revelation in which he heard the commandments. Where did the voice come from that Moses heard? “From between the two cherubs.” The Torah goes out to the world from the love between God and the Jewish nation. Love has results and the child born of this love is the Torah.
The significance of this outlook is that, as opposed to other religions that see religion as divine instruction imposed on man, Judaism sees things differently. The Torah comes from a divine source, but it is a joint venture of God’s with man. For many generations, Jews studied Torah and from the desire to completely abide by it, they created new ideas, changed the original creation, and created a tremendous practical and theoretical world called “The Jewish bookcase.” The Torah does not end with a Divine command, it continues to be written through human logic and conscience.
The way Jews learn in every “beit midrash”/seminary is like this: Before the learning begins, all the learners are clear on the fact that the value of obedience to the Torah is above all else and we have neither the ability nor the desire to cancel even one letter of the Torah. But when the learning takes place, the attitude changes, and people ask questions and demand answers. Because of this, the Torah has remained relevant for so many generations and across so many cultures.
A person could visit a beit midrash and ask the learners: Where do you get the gall, even the “chutzpa”, to ask questions about God’s word? What source does the learner have for allowing him to ask questions? These are questions Jews don’t usually ask because every Jew thinks it’s obvious that God expects questions. Being fully committed to a Divine command does not contradict man’s full partnership in the interpretation, recreation on the basis of Torah values, and in-depth focus inspired by the power of human logic.
The Torah that emanates from “between the cherubs” symbolizes the Torah created in partnership between God and man. The covenant of this partnership was made at the revelation at Mount Sinai which we marked on Shavuot. The implementation of this covenant is reflected in the way we learn Torah, a learning to which every Jew is invited.

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