Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudeh: G-d’s Love for the Jewish People
Parashiyot Vayakhel-Pekudeh tell of the construction of the Mishkan, the mobile Sanctuary which Beneh Yisrael carried with them as they traveled through the wilderness. It was later replaced by the permanent Bet Ha’mikdash in Jerusalem.
At the center of the Bet Ha’mikdash was the Aron (ark), which contained the stone tablets given to Moshe at Mount Sinai, and which was kept behind a curtain, in the most sacred chamber of the Bet Ha’mikdash. The Aron had a special covering that featured two Kerubim (cherubs), one male and one female, whose wings spread upward over the Aron. The Kerubim served as the "barometer," so-to-speak, of G-d’s relationship with His nation. When G-d was pleased with the people, then the Kerubim faced one another, symbolizing the closeness and affection between G-d and Am Yisrael. But when G-d was displeased by the nation’s conduct, the Kerubim would miraculously turn around such that their backs faced one another, expressing the loss of this close connection.
There was a time, however, when the Kerubim were neither positioned with their backs against one another, nor facing one another – but rather embracing one another. Surprisingly enough, this occurred at the time of the destruction of the second Bet Ha’mikdash. The Gemara relates that when the Romans plundered the Bet Ha’mikdash, before they set it ablaze, they opened the curtain and entered the sacred chamber where the Aron was kept. To their astonishment, they saw the two Kerubim embracing one another. The Romans then ridiculed the Jews for having such an image in their holiest spot.
Why were the Kerubim embracing at this moment? If the position of the Kerubim reflected the nature of G-d’s relationship to His nation at that time, then we would certainly expect the Kerubim to be turned away from one another when G-d was destroying the Bet Ha’mikdash as a result of the nation’s misdeeds. And yet, the Kerubim at this time were not only looking at one another, but embracing!
One answer is that this was G-d’s "farewell embrace" before sending the Jewish Nation away into a very long exile. Even though G-d was compelled to drive the nation into exile, He nevertheless continued loving them as a parent loves a child even when undertaking harsh disciplinary measures. Halacha requires a husband who is leaving home for an extended period to spend time being intimate with his wife before he departs. Similarly, before G-d sent the Jewish People away, He gave us a long, warm embrace, conveying to us that His love for us is unconditional, and will remain even throughout the long, difficult period of exile. It is this embrace that has sustained us throughout the centuries, reassuring us that even under the harshest conditions, we are still very much loved by G-d and under His care.
There might also be an additional explanation.
Although G-d was angry at the Jewish People to the point where He decided to destroy the Bet Ha’mikdash and drive them into exile, nevertheless, when He saw the evil of the Roman legions as they plundered Jerusalem and the Mikdash, He was filled with love for His cherished nation. The Romans acted with arrogance and brutality, and, as the Gemara relates, the Roman general brought a prostitute into the most sacred chamber of the Bet Ha’mikdash. The event of the destruction of the Bet Ha’mikdash, while being the result of Am Yisrael’s sins, also highlighted the comparative greatness of Am Yisrael. Although we had fallen short of what is expected of us, G-d still loved us because of the goodness that we retained despite having sinned.
This should be a powerful source of encouragement and comfort for us during times of challenge and uncertainty. Of course, the fact that we are still in exile shows that we have yet to reach the level that is expected of us. At the same time, however, we must remember that G-d loves us unconditionally, and that He cherishes every Misva that we do and the moral and religious standards that we maintain. We are certainly not perfect, but we all have many wonderful qualities and wonderful achievements in which we can and should take pride, and because of which we are deserving of Hashem’s love and care. We should never feel discouraged or disheartened. We should always feel G-d’s special love for us, despite our imperfections, and know that this love is eternal and everlasting.