Adrian A. Durlester

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Random Musings Before Shabbat-T'rumah 5765

Ish Al Akhiv

In previous years for this parasha, I've talked about things like willing giving with full hearts, understanding that sometimes specific instructions from the boss are needed, creating our own sanctuary of thoughts and deeds, and always being prepared. It has always been a wellspring of wonderful concepts and ideas. What was going to pop out at me this year, I wondered.

As I was reading through the parasha, I kept having visions of what the Aron HaKodesh might have looked like, no doubt influenced by sketches I had seen, as well as "Indiana Jones." I read and reread the descriptions and instructions in verses 10-22 of Shemot chapter 25. All very exacting and specific. All week long I kept thinking about it.

I awoke one morning this week from a dream. Sometimes I remember then, other times not. Yet I could sense I was agitated-I usually awake less abruptly. I recalled that I was actually dreaming about some scene with the Holy Ark in it, but I could instantly sense something was wrong. It became a bit clearer-It was some kind of play being staged and I was somehow involved. In any case, in this dream I realized what was wrong and told someone (apparently the prop master, who, for some odd reason, was a distant relative I hadn't seen for years) who kept arguing with me that nothing was wrong. The last thing I remember in my dream is my shouting "The cherubim are backwards" and then they came to life and started attacking people, in some sort of Indiana Jones/X-Files way. That's when I awoke.

I figured that had to be a sign, so I went and looked at the verses again. Then it hit me. It had never really dawned on me about the potential in what is likely a biblical Hebrew idiom used in verse 20b. That's the verse that describes the Cherubim on the cover of the ark as being with their wings spread, sheltering the cover, with the two Cherubim facing each other. What the text of the verse says is that the two Cherubim will be: "uf'neihem ish al-akhiv." Most translations render this as "facing each other" or "their faces toward one another." The JPS puts an interesting twist by translating it as "they shall confront each other."

It's no doubt an idiom, as the literal translation is "man to his brother." Makes sense as an idiom meaning "facing toward each other." Yet, upon reflection, it does seem an odd idiom to use when referring to angels. And odder still when referring to sculpted images of angels! There are other idiomatic ways to say "facing each other." So why is this particular idiom chosen-one using words representing humans?

And why are the cherubim facing inward? If the contents of the Aron HaKodesh were something that needed to be guarded by angels, a more logical stance for guards would be facing outward so they could see and detect potential threats. Could it be that this is a hint to the children of Israel that we are to look inward to each other, look inwards to the contents of the ark, the commandments, the Torah, and that doing so will afford us any protection we might need?

Yet, in our history, how many Jews who were always engaged and engrossed deeply in Torah were suddenly attacked by those who found them easy targets as they were unaware of what was going on around them (both physically and metaphorically?) So while the idea that such dedicated focus on the "contents of the ark" sounds like a good one, history has proven that this might not be the intended message.

Might it be a foreshadowing, a message for our later times, including our time? The scholars on the committee who created the latest JPS translation made the interesting choice of "they shall confront each other." But they "they" in the case really is "ish el akhiv" (man to his brother) and not angel to angel's brother. Thus these are representative of humans "confronting" each other over what's in the ark.

How prophetic! Not just in our own time, but since the time we received the Torah, Jews have been "confronting" one another over them, what they say, what they mean. It is part of our history, our tradition. And probably not unexpected by Gd.

So the confrontation can be considered good. It can also be not so good. At times, and especially now, the Jewish community seems threatened by being torn apart by these confrontations. Yet, when this is the case, we would do well to recall that, while the two cherubim are confronting each other on the cover of the ark, where is it that Gd meets with us? In that very space between the two cherubim, above the cover of the ark, as it says in verse 22. "There I will meet with you, and I will impart to you--from above the cover, from between the two cherubim that are on top of the Ark..."

If we, as Jews, turn away, ish min akhiv, one human from his kin because of our confrontations and our difference, then we will miss Gd's presence between us. May it be Gd's will that we all learn to turn towards each other so that Gd's presence might dwell between us.

Shabbat Shalom,


©2005 by Adrian A. Durlester

Some Previous Musings on the same parasha

T'rumah 5764-Redux 5760-Doing It Gd's Way
T'rumah 5763-Semper Paratus
T'rumah 5762-Virtual Reality or Real Virtuality?
T'rumah 5760-Doing It Gd's Way
T'rumah 5761-You Gotta Wanna

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