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We know through Chaza”l that the Keruvim (cherubs) mounted on the Aron (Holy Ark), and woven into the curtain separating the Holy from the Holy of Holies, were angel-like figures. There was a miracle that when they faced each other it was known that there was peace between us and Hashem; but when they were turned away from each other, everyone knew danger was on its way, for it was a sign that Hashem was not happy with the Jewish People. But why were the Keruvim set upon the holiest object on earth, where the Divine Presence came to rest?
Rabbeinu Bachye in this week’s Torah portion of Teruma (25:18) answers this question: “According to the basic understanding the Keruvim in the Beis HaMikdash and Mishkan were a sign and testimony to the concept of angels. For just as we are commanded about belief that The Holy One Blessed Be He is real and this is the first principle of all the principles in the Torah as it writes [in the first mitzvah of the Ten Commandments], ‘I am the Lord your G-D,’ so to we are commanded to believe that angels are real and this is the second principle, because the angels influence the power of the mind and place words into the mouth of prophets at the command of Hashem. If not for them there would be no prophecy and without prophecy there would be no Torah. For this reason the Torah commanded to make keruvim to show that the angels are real. The reason there are two and not one is to be sure people won’t think it is an image of G-D that should be worshiped. If you are worried that people might think there are really two gods, that isn’t a problem, for their wings are spread upwards to accept the abundance of strength from On High. This is the view of the Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:45) on the topic of the keruvim, in short.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Beis HaMikdash and Mishkan were the palaces of Hashem in this world, and the Holy of Holies, where the aron (the Holy Ark) was placed, was where His Divine Presence rested like a king on a throne. Why was it appropriate to place images of Hashem’s servants in such a holy and dignified place? Even more wondrous is that it was done at the risk of potentially causing people to transgress the second mitzvah of the Ten Commandments. “You shall not have the gods of others in My presence. You shall not make for yourself a graven image or any likeness which is in the heavens above, which is on the earth below, or which is in the water beneath the earth” (Shemos 20:3, 4). The Rambam pointed out that they went to great lengths in making two figures with wings pointing up towards Heaven, as if saying Hashem is the All Powerful and is the only source for everything in existence. But why is the Holiest place on Earth, which is essentially “the throne” in this world for the King Of All Kings, the proper place to show that angels are real, even if they are the second most important principle in Judaism?
We must say that by placing the Keruvim on the Holy Ark, it actually enhances the honor of Hashem, by showing that they are the conduit to receive Hashem’s holy influence. It would be disparaging to assume or expect that Hashem deals with us directly, even for matters as Divine as prophecy and the receiving of the Torah. Even Moshe Rabbeinu had to go through the angels to receive the Torah directly from Hashem. A king is always escorted by guards, nobleman, and servants. It is beneath the dignity of the throne to expect that the king will commune directly with his subjects at all times. This is also true for the King Of All Kings, Blessed Be He, The Almighty, who actually can do everything and does run the entire universe and beyond. There are laws and orders to everything, and the acknowledgement of the reality of angels as being a sort of guardsmen, messengers, go-betweens, between The King and His subjects, is a show of enhancement of the honor and respect to Hashem. Which is why they were represented by the Keruvim in the Beis Hamikdash and Mishkan.