The transition from adolescence to adulthood is generally considered in contrasting ways, depending on one’s stage in life. For children, adulthood signifies independence and opportunity, which are unavailable to someone living in their parents’ home and on their parents’ dime. For adults, childhood signifies bliss and simplicity, which are difficult to find when responsibilities and obligations continue piling higher. It represents a classic case of the cliché, “the grass is always greener on the other side.” But in truth, sometimes the grass is greener on the other side, and it just depends on which patch you’re speaking about.
Children represent simplicity in its highest form — authentic, happy, pure.
In Parshat Terumah, we can begin to identify the essence of childhood beyond the surface, and it emerges in an unconventional manner. The parsha begins with Hashem speaking to Moshe about building the Mishkan, specifically gathering the necessary materials from Bnei Yisrael. Soon after, He speaks to Moshe about constructing the Aron, in which the two luchot would be placed. As Hashem continues detailing the design, He turns to the Aron’s cover: “You shall make a cover of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. Make two keruvim [cherubim] of gold—make them of hammered work—at the two ends of the cover” (Shemot 25:17-18). For our purposes, we will focus on the keruvim.
Masechet Sukkah 5b teaches that the keruvim had the faces of children, and the other pesukim add more details: “The keruvim shall have their wings spread out above, shielding the cover with their wings. They shall confront each other, the faces of the keruvim being turned toward the cover” (Shemot 25:20). The whole description is very exact. We are left to ask: Why are the keruvim atop the Aron?
Whenever the Torah describes celestial or metaphysical ideas or entities, it is easy to mistake the analogy for the reality. As Rambam writes in Moreh Nevukhim, “You know very well how difficult it is for men to form a notion of anything immaterial, and entirely devoid of corporeality, except after considerable training” (1:49). Thus, the significance of the keruvim becomes even stronger, most notably their child-like face. What does it mean, and why, as asked above, must such keruvim be on the Aron?
I believe the Gemarah’s attention to the keruvim’s faces, that they looked like children, leads to a possible answer. In Shemoneh Kevatzim, Rav Kook writes about the holiness embedded within youth, which lends insight into how we can consider the keruvim. “The pure childhood absorbs within it the worldly purity,” he says. “The desire for the pure life in its natural state pulsates without filth, only in the pure child’s heart … The expression of holiness of childhood through its innocence includes the more powerful and clear essence of life’s ideals, and in expressing itself through holiness, it prepares the world’s life to fulfill its function” (6:284).
True divine service comes from authenticity, happiness, and purity. In other words, true divine service comes from our inner child.
With Rav Kook’s poetic significance, it makes sense why Masechet Shabbat says, “The world is sustained on the breath of schoolchildren” (119b). Children represent simplicity in its highest form — authentic, happy, pure. Too often, we mistake our age for our perspective and our ideals. The child that sits within us thus seems like it should not be ignored. The keruvim perhaps embody that very ideal. True divine service comes from authenticity, happiness, and purity. In other words, true divine service comes from our inner child. The Aron stationed two keruvim atop its structure for the world to see. Perhaps our inner child should also be for the world to see.