Lessons for Living

The Torah calls it Panim El Panim face to face. It describes the singular relationship of God and Moses. Their communication was a model of intimacy, deep communication, depth understanding.

The approach also describes the sculpture in Judaism‘s most holy space, the sacred ark, Aron HaKodesh, that was placed within the most spiritual space, the holy of holies.

At the very heart of the temple was the ark. Covering the ark were two figures facing one another. They are called cherubim or cherubs and often associated with the faces of children. The Talmud, however, also offers a different explanation. These, it says , weren’t cutesy little angel faces but in fact the face of a man and a woman.

They were equal in stature, direct in their eye contact, wings spreading above them.

This is an astonishing idea-given Judaism’s rejection of material images as evident in the Ten Commandments.

It seems an exception was made in order to convey a potent idea. The sculpture was made out of one tempered golden sheet and in the space between the two figures, the divine energy and voice was at its most powerful: “I will commune with you there, speaking to you from above the ark cover from between the two cherubs that are on the ark of testimony; in this manner I will give you instructions for the Israelites“. (Exodus 25, 22.) It was a portal to another time and place, a divine destination.

Perhaps the most astonishing feature is the fact that God chooses to communicate from the very space between these two loving figures. In other words, God lives in the hearts of those who give to one another, who reach out to communicate directly and genuinely face-to-face, eye-to eye, soul-to-soul.

Living in these challenging Covid times, when immediate intimate communication is so fraught, we should be even more appreciative of how much is to be gained when we can engage in direct dialogue with each other. It should remind us that our communication through emails or text messages, Teams or Zoom are not the most authentic way of engaging. It should also remind us that so much is lost in translation, in the indirect interaction, and therefore how much more careful we should be in the way we speak, text and present in our social media interactions.

Let us increase our thoughtfulness and patience in this convoluted environment. Let us exercise compassion and gentleness despite the lack of directness. In this way we allow God to enliven and enrich the spaces between us and to enter our hearts.
Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Ralph

About the Author
Rabbi Genende recently retired as the Senior Rabbi of Melbourne’s premier Caulfield Shule and took up the position of Senior Rabbi and Manager to Jewish Care Victoria, Melbourne’s largest Jewish organisation. He was a senior Reserve Chaplain in the South African Defence Force and is now Principal Rabbi to the Australian Defence Force, Member of the Religious Advisory Council to the Minister of Defence (RACS), board member of AIJAC (Australian Israel Jewish Affairs Council) and member of the Premier's Mulitifaith Advisory Group. He was President of JCMA (Jewish Christian Muslim Association) and a long time executive member of the Rabbinical Association of Victoria. He also oversees Yad BeYad a premarital relationship program, is a member of Swinburne University’s Research Ethics Committee and of the DHHS ,Department of Health Ethics Committee and sits on the Glen Eira City Council’s Committee responsible for its Reconciliation Action Plan for recognition and integration of our first peoples. Ralph has a passion for social justice and creating bridges between different cultures and faiths. For him the purpose of religion is to create a better society for all people and to engage with the critical issues facing Australian society. The role of the rabbi is, in his words, to challenge the comfortable and comfort the challenged. In 2018 Rabbi Genende was awarded an OAM for his services to multi-faith relations, and to the Jewish community of Victoria. Rabbi Genende is a trained counsellor with a Masters degree from Auckland University. He is married to Caron, a psychologist, and they have three children and two grandchildren.