D’var Torah For Friday, February 24, 2022

In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat T’rumah, we read “let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”  What follows is a detailed description of what they are to build and how. One particular aspect of the sanctuary caught my eye this week.  Above the ark, the Israelites are commanded to make two golden cherubim with wings outstretched.  The Torah instructs of the cherubim, “They shall face each one towards the other, the faces of the cherubim being turned toward the cover.” 

The cherubim are placed above the ark where the Ten Commandments are placed.  Why do you suppose it matters what direction they are facing? 

Perhaps the cherubim are meant to show us how to stand when we are faced with Torah before us.  If the cherubim were facing the heavens — the symbolism would be that we are to always look to G-d for the answers to our spiritual and Torah questions.  If the cherubim were facing the congregation, the message would be that we are to seek the answers from without – from some other place or some other person.  But the cherubim instead eternally face one another.  One translation even renders this as that they “confront” one another – though I find this too antagonistic.  The cherubim help us to see that the answers that we seek to understand Torah and mitzvot cannot be found in the heavens or from people that we are not engaged with rather that they can only be found in the insights discovered in chevruta – in conversation and learning from one another.  This is the traditional way to study Torah.  

The word chevruta comes from an Aramaic word meaning friendship or companionship.  Unlike a traditional teacher-student relationship, in which the student memorizes and repeats the material back, classic chevruta style learning involves each student organizing their thoughts and making their arguments to each other.  The two  learners sharpen each other’s ideas and reasoning and, with luck, will often arrive at entirely new insights into the meaning of the text.

We read in Pirkei Avot 1:6, “Asei l’cha rav uk’nei l’cha chaveir — Make for yourself a teacher, acquire for yourself a friend.” And in 4:1 “Ben Zoma says: Who is the wise one? He who learns from all men, as it says, “I have acquired understanding from all my teachers.” May you make of yourself a teacher and also a learner, seeking wisdom from the Divine face manifest in others.  

Shabbat Shalom,
Cantor Sally Neff