The Aron, Kapores and the Keruvim
The Torah portion Terumah contains the command to make the Aron , (the Ark), the Kapores (the lid for the Ark), and the Keruvim (the Cherubs that jutted out from the edges of the lid).15
According to Rashi , the Ark and its lid were two distinct entities,16 while Ramban maintains that the Ark’s covering was part and parcel of the Ark; only when the Kapores was upon the Ark could it be called the Aron.17
Why do they differ?
According to the Ramban , the main reason for G-d’s desiring a Mishkan was to have a place for the indwelling of the Divine Presence.18 This was accomplished by placing the “Testimony” within an Ark that had upon it the Kapores and the Keruvim.
According to Rashi , however, the purpose of the Aron was for the storage of the Torah,19 while the Kapores had a different function. “I shall make Myself known to you and I shall speak to you from above the Kapores , from between the two Keruvim.”20
This leads to yet another disagreement between Rashi and the Ramban : According to Rashi , the Keruvim were part of the Kapores , which was, as mentioned previously, wholly distinct from the Aron , while according to Ramban the Keruvim together with the Kapores and Aron served one purpose — they were a place where the Divine Presence resided.21
In light of the above, the reason for yet another difference between Rashi and the Ramban becomes clear: According to Rashi , the Keruvim looked like human infants,22 while according to the Ramban they resembled the Divine Chariot seen by Yechezkel.23
Since according to Ramban the Keruvim served as a residence for the Divine Presence, its form was symbolic of that Presence — the Divine Chariot. According to Rashi , however, who maintains that the Kapores and Keruvim were wholly distinct from the Ark, they resembled human infants, thereby emphasizing G-d’s love for the Jewish people, as the verse states: “For Israel is but a lad, and therefore I love him.”24
Thus, according to Rashi the Aron with its “Testimony” denoted the Torah, while the Kapores and the Keruvim , serving as the place where G-d made His will known, emphasized G-d’s love for the Jewish people.
On a more esoteric level, the difference between the two sages lies in the following:
The Aron , containing as it did the “Testimony,” is symbolic of Torah. Thus the Ramban notes25 that all the Jews took part in making the Ark “so that they all merit Torah.”26
It thus follows that according to the Ramban , who maintains that the Kapores and Keruvim were one with the Aron , the phrase “I shall make Myself known to you… and speak to you from above the Kapores between the Keruvim ” relates entirely to the Torah, while according to Rashi the Aron related to Torah while the Kapores and Keruvim related to G-d’s love for the Jews.
The reason for this difference between Ramban and Rashi is as follows: Ramban speaks in a revealed manner about esoteric matters of Torah. His commentary therefore deals with things as they are seen to exist. In this state, “Jews are bound to Torah and Torah is bound to G-d”27 — only through Torah can the Jewish people be bound to G-d.
The commentary of Rashi , however, speaks of the simple meaning of the verses, and as such addresses the essential aspect of the Jew — wholly one with G-d’s simplicity.28 This direct connection of a Jew with G-d transcends the connection achieved through Torah.29
Accordingly, Rashi states that the Keruvim , which indicated G-d’s love for the Jewish people, were in the shape of infants, for the essential love of a father for his child is not dependent on anything; it stems from the simple fact that father and child are one. And it was this love that was revealed by the shape of the Keruvim.
Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XXVI, pp. 175-181.
1. Zohar II 224a.
2. Tanchuma, Terumah 8. See also commentary of Rashi, Shmos 31:18, 33:11.
3. Zohar II 195a; Ramban beginning of Torah portion of Vayakhel.
4. Eruvin 13b and places cited there.
5. Shmos 25:2-3.
6. Yerushalmi, Shekalim 1:5.
7. The first Terumah in Pekudei , 38:25ff; the second Terumah in Sisa, 30:13ff.
8. Shmos 25:8.
9. Avos 1:2.
10. Commentary of Rashi and Bartenura et al , Avos ibid.
11. Berachos 26b; See also commentary of Rabbeinu Yonah to Avos ibid.
12. Likkutei Torah, Re’eh 23c.
13. Tanya ch. 36, based on Tanchuma, Naso 16.
15. Shmos 25:10-22.
16. See Rashi ibid. verse 21.
17. See commentary of Ramban on verses ibid.
18. See ibid. 25:1.
19. See commentary of Rashi ibid. verse 16.
20. Ibid. verse 22 and see commentary of Rashi.
21. Commentary of Ramban ibid. verse 22.
22. Rashi ibid. verse 18.
23. Ramban ibid. verse 21.
24. Hosheiah 11:1.
25. Shmos 25:10.
26. Shmos Rabbah 34:2. See also Rabbeinu Bachya and Abarbanel on the verse ibid.
27. See Zohar III 73a.
28. See Likkutei Dibburim III, 491b.
29. Bereishis Rabbah 1:4; Tanna d’Vei Eliyahu Rabbah ch. 14. See also Likkutei Torah, Shir HaShirim 19:b-c; Hemshech 5666 , ma’amar titled Vayidabeir… b’Midbar Sinai.