The Keruvim - Rav Ofer Livnat
Publicized in the weekly leaflet Hemdat Yamim - Eretz Hemdah
This week we will deviate from our regular format and deal with a non-Halachic passage from the Daf Hayomi. This passage is unique in that even Rishonim who usually comment only on the Halachic passages, address this passage. The Gemara (99a) deals with the way the Keruvim (cherubs) were placed in the Mishkan and in the Beit Hamikdash. The Gemara quotes two verses that seem to contradict each other. From one verse (Shemot 25, 20) it appears that the Keruvim were placed facing each other, while from another verse (Divrei Hayamim 2 3, 13) it appears that they were facing the interior of the Beit Hamikdash and not each other. Although at first glance there doesn't appear to be a contradiction, since the first verse deals with the original Keruvim which were placed on the Ark, while the second verse deals with additional Keruvim made by Shlomo for the Beit Hamikdash, the Rashbam (d"h haktiv) explains that the question of the Gemara is that both pairs of Keruvim should be placed in the same way.
The Gemara suggests two resolutions to this contradiction. The first is that the Keruvim were placed at an angle so that they were both facing each other and the interior of the Beit Hamikdash. The second answer is that, when Israel fulfilled Hashem's will, then the Keruvim faced each other, and when they did not, then the Keruvim did not face each other. According to this explanation the Keruvim reflect the relationship between Hashem and Am Yisrael.
The R"I Migash (d"h keitzad) quotes another Gemara from which it appears that the Keruvim were placed in a third fashion. The Gemara in Yuma (54a) states:
"When the people of Israel came to the Beit Hamikdash on the Regalim (three holidays- Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkoth), they used to open the Parochet and show them the Keruvim hugging each other and they said to them: 'see how beloved you are to Hashem like the love of a man and a woman.'"
According to this Gemara it appears that the Keruvim were placed hugging each other. The R"I Migash quotes the Rif who explained that this was a special miracle that Hashem did during the Regalim to show Am Yisrael how much he loves them. However, the Gemara (ibid b) continues that there was another time when the Keruvim were found hugging:
"When the gentiles entered the Temple they saw the Keruvim hugging each other. They took the Keruvim out to the marketplace and stated: 'these people of Israel, whose blessing is a blessing and whose curse is a curse, are occupied with this kind of thing (they were claiming that the positioning of the Keruvim was immodest)?!' They immediately despised them, as it is stated (Eicha 1, 8): 'all that honored her despised her because they have seen her nakedness.'"
This second statement is very puzzling, since the time of the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash was certainly a time of great anger from Hashem towards Am Yisrael, so why were the Keruvim hugging then?
The R"I Migash quotes two answers given by the Rif. The first is that Hashem wanted to show the gentiles the love that previously existed towards Am Yisrael. The second answer is that this was done so that the gentiles would despise Am Yisrael, as indeed happened, and this would be considered a further punishment.
The Bnei Yissachar (chodesh tamuz av, mamar 3, ot 1) writes another explanation given by the Magid Memezritch. When two lovers know that they are going to be separated for a long time, at the moment of separation the love between them increases. So too, at the time of the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, since Hashem knew that there would a be a separation for a long exile, this was a moment of great love between Hashem and Am Yisrael, and this was reflected in the Keruvim hugging each other.
We pray that Hashem will once again show his love towards us and that we will see the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash in our times.