Face to face, we can create holy space, Terumah, Exodus 25:1-27:19
The cherubim shall spread their wings upward, sheltering the cover with their wings, and the cherubim shall face one another. Their faces shall be turned toward the cover… there I will meet with you …
— (Exodus 25:20, 22).
In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Terumah, the Israelites receive the detailed blueprints for the mishkan, the Tabernacle, which will house the Ark of the Covenant. One of the most interesting and unique aspects of this passage is the detail of the golden cherubim that are to hover at either end of the ark’s pure gold cover, facing one another. The faces of the cherubim are emphasized, mentioned twice in this one verse. The cherubim are to face one another, their faces turned towards the cover of the ark. And there, where their gazes meet, God will be present and direct Moses in regard to the future of the Israelite people.
It is very easy to avoid looking someone directly in the eyes, especially in our intensely busy and fast-paced world. Whether we are running late to our next appointment or grabbing that late-afternoon latte from the local coffee shop, we often do not take the time to greet those we meet properly or with an appropriate salutation. Even those we love are often brushed off with a quick sigh or shrug, while we furiously type away on our Blackberry or iPhone. The same is true for our students and kids who are growing up in a decidedly plugged in, albeit tuned out world. And not to mention those in our community who are less fortunate, the many who are homeless and hungry. We often do everything and anything in our power to avoid looking them in the eyes.
But, our Torah reminds us that this is not the way in which we help bring God’s presence into the world. Rather, like the cherubim, we must face one another and look each other in the eyes; in so doing, we create holy space where God may dwell. This is also the teaching of the great philosopher
Martin Buber who taught that God exists in the relationship between human beings. When we see another human being in his or her totality, we experience a glimpse of God.
This Shabbat, as we pause from the whirlwind of activities and daily responsibilities that keep us so focused during the week, may we find the time to look our loved ones, our friends, or even the stranger on the street in the eyes. May we in this way see the soul of another human being and may they in return see each of us for who we are in our essence and fullness.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)