The Ark, the Kapporet, and the Keruvim (Part VI)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

 

Mikdash

Rav Yitzchak Levi

 

 

*********************************************************

This week's shiurim are dedicated by Matt Tambor
in memory of Abraham Tambor z"l
*********************************************************

Lecture 140: the Ark, the kaporet and the Keruvim
(Part vI)

 

 

INtroduction

 

            To complete our shiurim on the ark, the kaporet, and the keruvim, we will focus in this shiur on the keruvim.

 

            Thus far, we have related to the kaporet as a whole in comparison to the ark, but we have not dealt directly with the keruvim, their essence and their purpose. In this context, we must consider the relationship between the kaporet and the keruvim, the question of why there are two keruvim, and the question regarding the very possibility that there should be keruvim in the Holy of Holies.

 

The Kaporet and the Keruvim

 

            The Torah states:

 

And you shall make two keruvim of gold, of beaten work shall you make them, at the two ends of the kaporet. And make one keruv on the one end, and the other keruv on the other end; of the kaporet shall you make the keruvim on the two ends of it. And the keruvim shall stretch out their wings on high, overspreading the covering with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the kaporet shall the faces of the keruvim be. (Shemot 25:18-20)

 

            Several points emerge from these verses:

 

·           First, the fact that the keruvim, which stand at the two ends of the kaporet, overspread the kaporet and their faces are turned to the kaporet teaches that the verse wishes to emphasize that the kaporet is the source of the keruvim, that they come out from it and turn their faces to it.

 

·           In addition, Scripture describes how, on the one hand, the keruvim stretch out their wings on high, while, on the other hand, the keruvim overspread the kaporet downwards.

 

·           On the one hand, the faces of the keruvim are turned one to the other, while on the other hand, they are turned "toward the kaporet," downwards.

 

As for the role of the keruvim, the aforementioned verses relate not to the keruvim themselves, but to the area between the two keruvim – "And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the kaporet, from between the two keruvim." In that same expanse where the keruvim stand with their faces turned one to another, the expanse where the keruvim emerge from the ends of the kaporet toward the middle – in this expanse, God reveals himself to Moshe. Above the kaporet between the two keruvim is clearly the most sanctified place, as it is from there that the Divine word issues forth.

 

A history of the keruvim

 

1. the Keruvim in the Garden of eDen[1]

 

            The keruvim first appear in the Garden of Eden:

 

So He drove out the man, and He placed the keruvim at the east of the garden of Eden, and the bright blade of a revolving sword to guard the way to the tree of life. (Bereishit 3:24)

 

            In the wake of the expulsion, God places the keruvim at the east of the Garden of Eden. The role of the keruvim, together with the bright blade of a revolving sword, is to guard the way to the tree of life. Scripture does not explain what the keruvim themselves are and what form they have. It refers to them simply as keruvim, as if keruvim were a well-known phenomenon.

 

2. The Keruvim in the Mishkan

 

            In addition to the keruvim in the Holy of Holies, there are also embroidered pictures of keruvim:

 

Moreover, you shall make the Mishkan with ten curtains of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet; with keruvim of artistic work shall you make them. (Shemot 26:1)

 

            And so too in the parokhet:

 

And you shall make a parokhet of blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen with keruvim shall it be made of artistic work. (Shemot 26:31)

 

            As for the difference between the curtains, regarding which it says, "Keruvim of artistic work shall you make them," and the parokhet, regarding which it says, "With keruvim shall it be made of artistic work," the Netziv comments:

 

"Keruvim of artistic (choshev) work" – And regarding the parokhet it says: "With keruvim shall it be made of artistic work." For there is a difference in the way they were made. For regarding the curtains, it was not necessary to calculate (la-cheshov) from the outset that this image that he had started in his mind to make should be completed on that panel, for it would be sewn to the next panel, and the image could be completed there. This is not the case with the parokhet. There it was necessary to calculate from the outset how and what he should do so that it not end in the middle of the image. Therefore, regarding the curtains it first says, "keruvim" and afterwards "of artistic work," and regarding the parokhet the opposite: first "of artistic work" and afterwards "keruvim." (Shemot 23:1)

 

            According to the Netziv, since several panels of curtain were connected one to the other, it was not necessary to plan the design in precise manner, as it was possible to complete the design on the next panel. In the parokhet, on the other hand, the entire design had to be on the one panel itself. Therefore, regarding the curtains the verse first mentions the keruvim and only afterwards the artistic work (i.e., the calculation), whereas regarding the parokhet it first mentions the artistic work and afterwards the keruvim.

 

            For our purposes, the fact that there were keruvim also on the inner curtains of the Mishkan and also on the parokhet that divided between the Holy and the Holy of Holies teaches that as we draw close to the most sanctified place in the Mishkan, there are keruvim.

 

            Furthermore, in addition to the keruvim found on the kaporet and made of beaten gold, the Holy of Holies is in a certain sense surrounded by keruvim: from above, in the inner curtains, and from its four sides. This attests to the great importance of the keruvim being found in the most sanctified area of the Mikdash.

 

3. The Keruvim in the first Temple

 

a. The keruvim added by Shlomo in the Holy of Holies

 

            In addition to the keruvim that were part of the kaporet that covered the ark of the Testimony, Shlomo added large keruvim made of olive wood and overlaid with gold. These keruvim were ten cubits high, and each wing was five cubits, so that these keruvim took up twenty cubits, the entire width of the Holy of Holies. From this we learn that the wings of the keruvim touched the northern and southern walls of the Temple.

 

            These keruvim are described as part of the structure of the Temple and not in the framework of the chapter that describes the vessels.[2]

 

            The addition of these keruvim was of great importance, as it changed the character of the Holy of Holies. The keruvim with their large dimensions, filling the entire breadth of the chamber, symbolized more than anything else the fixing of the Shekhina in the structure.[3]

 

b. Keruvim on the parokhet, on the walls of the Temple, on the doors of the Heikhal and the Devir and on the mekhonot.[4]

 

            As in the Mishkan, in the first Temple, the keruvim were found in other places, in addition to the keruvim of the kaporet on the ark and in addition to the keruvim made by Shlomo:

 

  • On the parokhet: On the parokhet there were pictures of the keruvim:

 

And he made the parokhet of blue, and purple, and crimson, and fine linen, and worked keruvim on it. (II Divrei ha-Yamim 3:14)

 

  • On the walls of the Temple: Scripture emphasizes that keruvim were engraved on the walls:

 

And he overlaid the house, the beams, the posts, and its walls, and its doors, with gold; and engraved keruvim on the walls. (II Divrei ha-Yamim 3:7)

 

So too in I Melakhim:

 

And he carved all the walls of the house round about with carved figures of keruvim, and palm trees and open flowers, both for the inner and the outer areas. (6:29)

 

            That is to say, the stone walls that were overlaid with cedar wood and gold were decorated with carvings of keruvim. The commentators explain that the inner area refers to the Holy of Holies and the outer area to Holy, i.e., the Heikhal.

 

  • On the doors of the Heikhal and the Devir: In addition, there were also keruvim on the doors of the Heikhal. So too, keruvim were carved on the olive wood doors in the entrance to the Devir:

 

The two doors also were of olive wood; and he carved upon them carvings of keruvim and palm trees and open flowers, and overlaid them with gold, and spread the gold upon the keruvim and upon the palm trees. (I Melakhim 6:32)

 

            Thus we see that there were carvings of keruvim on the walls of the Temple, on the olive wood doors of the Holy of Holies, and on the doors of the Heikhal as is stated in the continuation:

 

And he carved on them keruvim and palm trees and open flowers: and covered them with gold fitted upon the carved work. (ibid. v. 35)

 

            Here too, the gold was spread out and fitted upon the carvings that were carved into the wooden door, so that the figures appeared as if they were made of gold, as with the door of the Devir.

 

  • On the brass bases:

 

            In addition to the keruvim found in the structure of the Mishkan and the Mikdash, keruvim were found in the first Temple on the brass bases. There were ten brass bases (on which were placed lavers), each base having a border (walls that went down from the upper edge). Scripture notes:

And on the borders that were between the ledges were lions, oxen, and keruvim: and upon the ledges there was a base above; and beneath the lions and oxen were wreaths of hanging work. (I Melakhim 7:29)

 

            The assumption is that these decorations are described from the bottom to the top. In other words, at the bottom there were lions, above them oxen, and in the upper portion of the borders there were keruvim. Similarly, in the continuation:

 

For on the plates, on its stays and on its borders, he engraved keruvim, lions, and palm trees, according to the space between each one; and the wreaths were round about. (ibid. 36)

 

            The plates ("luchot") and the stays ("yadot") may possibly be the same thing, and they may be different things. In the decorations on the borders, the lions are mentioned before the keruvim, whereas here, the keruvim are mentioned before the lions. In place of the oxen mentioned earlier, here we have palm trees. It is reasonable to assume that here too, in the upper part there were the keruvim, below them the lions, and at the bottom the palm trees.

 

            It is very interesting that in the description of the bases, mention is made of four brass wheels,[5] and the verse in I Melakhim says: "And the work of the wheels was like the work of the wheel of a chariot" (7:33). Targum Yonatan renders this as: "Like the work of the wheel of the chariot of glory," that is, like the wheels of the heavenly chariot which Yechezkel saw in his prophecy.

 

            In wake of the Targum, Rashi draws a connection between the form of the bases and the chariot seen by Yechezkel.

 

            The Radak notes:

 

The holy chariot that was seen in the prophecy of Yechezkel… Shlomo saw in his wisdom what Yechezkel saw in his prophecy. (ibid.)

 

            The account of the bases in Shlomo's Temple mentions lions, oxen and keruvim, whereas Yechezkel's account of the chariot mentions a lion, a bull, an eagle and a man. Keruvim are mentioned in the second account of the chariot in Yechezkel 8:1.

 

            In both accounts, mention is made of wheels (I Melakhim 7:30, 32, 33; Yechezkel 1:15, 16, 19, 20, 21).

 

            There is also frequent use of the number four, all this beyond the explicit statement that the work of the wheels was like the work of the wheel of the chariot.

 

            The Ralbag finds in the description of Shlomo's sea allusions to the chariot. It rested on twelve oxen that were divided into four groups, corresponding to the geographical directions.

 

            From here we see that the appearance of keruvim on the bases, and the similarity between the wheels and the wheels of the chariot, significantly extended the resting of the Shekhina, so that it was not only in the Holy of Holies, but also in the Temple courtyard.[6]

 

            With the fashioning of these brass vessels in the first Temple – the bases with the keruvim – Shlomo allowed all those who arrived for the pilgrim festivals to see a sort of revelation of the resting of the Shekhina also in the courtyard, and not only the priests in the Holy of Holies.

 

            Rivka Raviv notes in her article that this is an expression of the spreading of the holiness from the sanctuary to the courtyard, something that is found in the account of the Mikdash in the prophecy of Yechezkel (40-43).

 

            According to this understanding, we can explain the actions of King Achaz as reflecting the desire to remove the Shekhina from the Mikdash, as it is stated:

And King Achaz cut off the borders of the bases, and removed the laver from off them; and took down the sea from off the brazen oxen that were under it, and put it upon a pavement of stones. (II Melakhim 16:17)

 

            We see from here that the keruvim, both in the Mishkan and in the Mikdash, enclose the Holy of Holies from all sides, from above, from the sides and on the entrance from the east on the parokhet. In the Mishkan, above and on the sides there were curtains, whereas in the Mikdash, there were walls; in the first Temple, there were also engravings of the keruvim on the doors.

 

            On the face of it, we can learn from here that the keruvim are connected in their very essence to the Holy of Holies and to the resting of the Shekhina in the Mikdash; the more deeply one enters, the appearance of the keruvim is greater, and therefore keruvim are found also on the doors of the Heikhal and the Devir.

 

            In addition, in the first Temple there were keruvim on the bases of the lavers, something that points to the connection between the bases that bear the lavers and entry into the Holy, and to the resting of the Shekina even in the courtyard, the place to which all of Israel come on the pilgrim festivals to see and be seen by God.

 

v. The keruvim in Yechezkel's Mikdash

 

            In the Mikdash of Yechezkel, there is no mention of the ark, the keruvim above it, or the keruvim that were added by Shlomo in the Holy of Holies in the first Temple.[7] In this prophesy, the chayot that bear God’s chariot are called keruvim.[8]

 

            On the other hand, here too there are keruvim in certain parts of the structure.

 

            In his account of the Shekhina's departure from the sanctuary, the prophet Yechezkel states:

 

And the keruvim lifted up their wings, and mounted up from the earth in my sight, when they went out, with the wheels beside them; and every one stood at the door of the east gate of the Lord's house; and the glory of the God of Israel was over them above. (Yechezkel 10:19)

 

            In this prophecy, Yechezkel calls the chayotkeruvim” (10:20). Similarly in the continuation:

 

Then did the keruvim lift up their wings, and the wheels along with them; and the glory of the God of Israel was over them above. And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city. (11:22-23)

 

            Similarly later in the book:

 

Likewise to the space above the door even to the inner house, and outside, and on all the wall round about inside and outside by measure. And it was made with keruvim and palm trees, so that a palm tree was between one keruv and another; and every keruv had two faces, so that the face of a man was toward the palm tree on the one side, and the face of a young lion towards the palm tree on the other side: thus was it made through all the house round about. From the ground to above the door were fashioned keruvim and palm trees, and so on the wall of the Temple. (41:17-20)

 

            All the walls of the house from the ground to above the door, were overlaid with gold, including the wall of the Heikhal. The gold overlay was made with keruvim and palm trees, with a palm tree between every two keruvim. Each keruv had two faces, the face of a man on the one side and the face of a young lion on the other side, throughout the house.

 

            In addition, the prophet Yechezkel prophesied about the king of Tzor (28:11-19). He saw him in Eden, the garden of God, where another image appeared:

 

You were the far covering keruv; and I have set you so: you were upon the holy mountain of God; you have walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. (28:14)

 

            There is an interesting correspondence here to the Garden of Eden, and mention is made here of the king's canopy which was set with precious stones that are mentioned in the list of the stones of the High Priest's breastplate.

 

            In any event, the parallel between the keruvim in the Garden of Eden and the keruvim in the Mishkan and the Mikdash is very interesting. Keruvim are also mentioned in other places, where the reference is to heavenly animals or angels who bear the heavenly chariot. A keruv is also mentioned in the song of David:

 

And He rode upon a keruv¸ and did fly; and He was seen upon the wings of the wind. (II Shmuel 22:11)

 

Conclusion

 

            In this shiur, we dealt with the relationship between the kaporet and the keruvim, and we surveyed the history of the appearance of the keruvim in the various Temples across the generations.

 

            Whereas in the Mishkan, the keruvim appear primarily in the curtains above and around the Holy of Holies, including the parokhet (in addition to the keruvim found above the ark and the kaporet), in the first Temple, beyond the very significant addition of the extra keruvim in the Holy of Holies that were part of the structure itself, there were keruvim in the doors of the Heikhal and the Devir, and on the parokhet, and even on the brass bases in the courtyard.

 

            The appearance of the keruvim on the brass bases and the similarity between the wheels and the wheels of the chariot were an important development. It is possible that they came to highlight the spreading of the Shekhina beyond the inner sanctuary and its revelation to the pilgrims who arrived in the Temple's courtyard to see and to be seen.

 

            This tendency certainly accords with Shlomo's outlook, according to which the house of God that he was building was meant for the entire world. For that reason, the dedication of the Temple took place in Tishrei, the month in which the nations of the world are partners. Those nations are also mentioned in Shlomo's prayer at the time of the dedication of the Mikdash:

 

Moreover, concerning a stranger, that is not of Your people Israel, but comes out of a far country for Your name's sake – for they shall hear of Your great name, and of Your strong hand, and of Your stretched out arm - when he shall come and pray towards this house. (I Melakhim 8:41-42)

           

            This tendency is strengthened by the account of Yechezkel's structure, where the expanse of holiness extends to additional areas. The appearance of the keruvim clearly symbolizes the revelation and appearance of the Shekhina across the generations and the places, in the various sanctuaries.

 

            In the next shiur (the last shiur this year), we shall deal with the identification of the keruvim.

 

(Translated by David Strauss)

 

  



[1] In a previous year, we dealt with the garden of Eden, the parallel between it and the Mikdash, and the significance of that parallel.

[2] In an earlier shiur, we dealt with the keruvim that were added by Shlomo to the keruvim in the Mishkan in the context of the significant differences between the Mishkan and the Mikdash.

[3] These keruvim are described in I Melakhim 6:23-28; 8:5-9; II Divrei ha-Yamim 3:10-13. In addition, there is a discussion of their dimensions in the gemara in Yoma 5b.

[4] In this section, we were helped by Yehuda Kil's Da'at Mikra commentary to the book of Melakhim.

[5] In Yechezkel 10:13 it says: "As for the wheels, they were called in my hearing, ‘The wheelwork [ha-galgal].’" In Yechezkel 1:15-16, the prophet uses the word ofan or ofanim, whereas in chapter 10, he uses the word galgal, the meaning of the two words being identical.

[6] Rivka Raviv, "Ma'aseh Merkava be-Chatzar Mikdash Shlomo," Shema'atin 159-160, pp. 73-83, deals with this issue. Our comments about the meaning of the revelation of the Shekhina in the courtyard in the brass bases and in the wheels accords with her understanding.

[7] This issue requires expansion in the context of the structure of Yechezkel's Mikdash as a whole.

[8] This issue must also be examined in the context of the prophecy regarding the departure of the Shekhina in chapters 9-11. We shall deal with the identification of the keruvim in this chapter in a later shiur.