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Wings of Desire

Wings of Desire

Feb 03, 2022

I dug into the sources and commentaries, trying to find out what a 'cherub' looks like.

Look, the result was an interesting shiur, I think! You can read the sourcesheet here, and listen to the podcast on the website / apple / spotify /google etc.

But the question itself has to be examined. What do I mean by 'what does a cherub look like'? Would a scientific answer, if one were possible, satisfy what I'm looking for? There are attempts at that: this article, drawing on near-Eastern parallels was particularly helpful. But that's not enough. Also the path I took, at least at the beginning, just collecting all the different interpretations in the post-biblical Jewish tradition - that's not enough in itself either.

There is a midrash I like about the building of the tabernacle:

מלמד שהראה הקב"ה למשה אש ירוקה אש שחורה אש לבנה אש אדומה אמר לו ככל אשר אני מראה אותך וגו'... כך אמר משה לפני הקב"ה רבונו של עולם ומנין יש לי אש ירוקה אש שחורה אש לבנה אש אדומה, אמר לו אתה בסמניך ואני בכבודי

God showed Moses green fire, black fire, white fire, and red fire, and told him: “Construct it like this!” Moses asked God: “Where am I going to find green fire, black fire, white fire and red fire?” God said to him: “You have your symbols and I have My glory.” (Rabbeinu Bechaye on Terumot)

Symbols are all we have. The images of the cherubs in the Temple were symbols, and the word 'cherub' in the text symbolises those symbols, and that word is all we have to play with today. I don't just need a dictionary or encyclopedia telling me how the word is spelled and its etymology, I want to know what poetry I can use it for. Maybe we need to be building our own golden cherubs today too.

Or at least, thinking about what masks to wear this Purim.

Wishing everyone health and inspiration on their sacred journeys.


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