20 Feb 2015

Teruma 5775 – The Naked Eye

A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be. — Albert Einstein

The reading gets technical this week as we delve into the architecture and furnishings of the Mishkan, the nation’s mobile centre of worship during their sojourns through the desert. We read of the materials used, the gold, silver and copper metals, the crimson, blue and purple fabrics, the animal skins, and the lumber. Each element was meticulously commanded in order to create a space where the nation could commune with G-d.

Among the furnishings, though, we find something peculiar. At the heart of the temple was a golden ark that encased the tablets of the Ten Commandments. Atop this ark were the kerubim, two golden sculptures of winged male and female children facing each other. Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi (1075-1141) points out in his Kuzari (I:97) that this was an odd fixture to have in a house that was meant to be a place of worship for a formless G-d. This is especially odd considering the incident with the Golden Calf, the nation’s notorious experience with idol worship. So for G-d to incorporate a similar image in the holiest part of His new sanctuary seems terribly contradictory.

Perhaps, though, we are wrongly assuming that the problem with the Golden Calf was that it was a graven image. Rabbi Yehuda haLevi argues that the issue was not the physical element, but rather that it had been created entirely by the people, with no input from G-d. What validated the kerubim and made them different[1] was that they were the directive of G-d. The command rendered them acceptable, by connecting them with G-d and making them externally imposed rather than solipsistically created.

When we assume reality is a certain way bring these assumptions with us in our attempts to examine our experiences, we risk missing what is actually there because we only allow ourselves to see what we wish to see. Just as the golden kerubim can only be permitted through a communication from G-d, so too must our study of reality come from the external circumstances of the world rather than our own self-imposed projections.

We are encouraged by the world’s great philosophers to use careful discipline and to listen to what the world is truly telling us rather than what we think it should be telling us. It is based on this principle that William of Ockham (1287-1347) suggested what became known as “Occam’s Razor”, that simplicity and economy of assumption must be at the base of our discoveries and explanations of reality.

It is significant that the Torah, our framework for wisdom and thought, is crowned with these kerubim. They remind us that true wisdom must be hostile to artificial explanations and interpretations and that the wise explorer should always be open to the astonishing truths that reality has in store for us.

Shabbat Shalom

[1] Not as objects of worship, but as acceptable images without the worry of deteriorating into idol worship.