One of the warnings voiced most potently at Sinai had been the warning against comparing the Creator to any manner of physical being. Assigning the Creator an image or giving Him any physical representation was absolutely forbidden. Accordingly, sculpting, painting, or otherwise visually representing the divine, in keeping with the great artists of the gentile nations throughout the ages, was out of the question. The warning that “gods of silver and gods of gold shall you not make for yourselves” (Exodus 20:20) is stated and restated in different ways throughout the Torah time and again.
Adapted from Parasha U’Pishra by Rabbi Moshe Grylak
Written by: Braha Bender
One of the warnings voiced most potently at Sinai had been the warning against comparing the Creator to any manner of physical being. Assigning the Creator an image or giving Him any physical representation was absolutely forbidden. Accordingly, sculpting, painting, or otherwise visually representing the divine, in keeping with the great artists of the gentile nations throughout the ages, was out of the question. The warning that “gods of silver and gods of gold shall you not make for yourselves” (Exodus ) is stated and restated in different ways throughout the Torah time and again.
The Jewish nation was conscious of the fact that their relationship with the Almighty was obliged to be a relationship purely spiritual in nature. That there was no space for symbolism, iconography, or tactile representation was clear.
Yet weeks (months?days?) after Sinai, an alternate commandment seemed to shake the foundations of this principle. In the pulsing center of the sacred, the KodeshHaKodashim (Holy of Holies), placed on top of the very AronHaBris, the Ark of Testimony, housing the precious luchos, the Sinaic tablets themselves, were to be placed exquisite sculptures of spiritual beings. The kruvim, commanded the Torah, were to be two human figures with the faces of innocent children, spreading glorious wings heavenward over the kapores, the cover of the aron. What of the directive against any visual representation of the divine-- and in human form at that?
A deeper look at these two commandments reveals that not only are they are in no contradiction to each other, but they compliment each other beautifully. The kruvim serve as one of the Torah’s most powerful stances against idolatry. A new strata in the definition of “idolatry” comes to the fore here.
Idolatry is not just the crafting and worship of golden, bronze, and wooden figurines. Neither is it the prostration to the pouring constellations of the heavens, the glory of a mighty mountain, or a tall and greenly tree alone. Idolatry at its core is defined as any idea that is assigned absolute value, enslaving the spirit of man, and detaching him from the word of G-d, the truth of the highest order as revealed in His Torah.
We loftily judge ourselves well above the worship of wood and stone, but this more essential definition of idolatry bleeds directly into many aspects of our lives today. Though the names of the pantheon change with the ages, the proliferation of powers to fear and to sacrifice for remains. Culture, nationalism, science, lucre, and status present only a limited sampling of the many gods we are willing to sacrifice our own and our children’s lives for today. Who would deny the existence of these idols? Never did an idolater to wood and stone enslave himself with greater passion to his idol than we do to these idols today.
A careful examination of civilizations’ moral progression throughout human history will yield an interesting insight. Time and again, when members of a given society began distancing considerations of objective moral standards from their lives, the downfall of that society was close at hand. For example, when the concept of democracy usurped the place of the G-d given directive, democracy was soon turned into a foil for the violation of any and all standards and bounds. Democracy, forged in idealism, became an altar whereupon were unjustly sacrificed any number of innocent lives. The noble concept of “freedom of speech” continues to be prostituted by the most degraded in society to demean and crush thousands even now. Paparazzi bereft of any moral code wave their “right” to “freedom of speech” in blank defense of their violation of the basic privacy and dignity of other human beings. Anyone living in the modern world knows that these examples constitute nothing but a small sampling.
This issue was exactly that which the kruvim stood against. The kruvim displayed in no uncertain terms that even the prohibition to make an idol is not a moral standard of objective value in and of itself. In the face of the golden kruvim crowning the aron in the KodeshHaKodashim, the Jew came to appreciate that it is the word of G-d, and the word of G-d alone, that defines our reality -- including the moral value assigned to any given concept or object throughout time.
Ideas and principles draw their worth not from themselves, but from their Maker. The crafting of idols and icons are forbidden by His will. Equally so, by His will as well are commanded the crafting of two tangible, sacred kruvim. In appreciating the lesson of the kruvim, man comes to appreciate the perspective he must maintain in regards to all the concepts and ideas defining his life’s value system.
That which is perceived by the eyes will not fool the Jew. There is no danger that he will mistake the kruvim as a replacement for or an embodiment of the Almighty. The Jew observes that the kruvim are two, not one; relative, not absolute; unlike the G-d of Israel, who is One, Who is absolute, and other than Whom, in truth, nothing else exists.