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Why were there two Cherubim on the ark?

And what was their role?

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There are those who say that the reason for the two is to teach the connection between Hashem and the Bnai Yisrael. When the Bnai Yisrael behaved, they would turn toward each other and embrace. When Bnai Yisrael sinned, they would turn away from each other. Yoma 74a

There are those who connect the k'ruvim on the ark with the two k'ruvim who guarded the entrance to the garden in Bereishis. This could be an indication that Bnai Yisrael are to try to regain the status of Adam Harishon or that they are symbols that people can only approach "so far and no farther".

Some say that they had the faces of children. Chagigah 13; Sukkah 5b

Rav Chaim Paltiel suggests that the two statues represent the two attributes of God, mercy and justice.

R. Jacob ben Asher (Ba’al haTurim) believes they represent two study partners in a beit midrash, having a give and take about Torah.

@Micha Berger adds in the name of the Seifer Chareidim that just as the Shechinah joins 2 friends who are studying Torah together, so too the Divine Presence is perceived from between the keruvim.

Jewish Encyclopedia CHERUB (; plural, Cherubim). gives more details.

Rambam, Guide of the Perplexed, 3:45, says that there were two k'ruvim on the Ark because had there been only one it might have been confused with a representation of the One God.

From the preceding remarks it is clear that the belief in the existence of angel s is connected with the belief in the Existence of God; and the bel ief in God and angels leads to the belief in Prophecy and in the truth of the Law. In order to firmly establish this creed, God commanded [the Israelites] to make over the ark the form of two angels. T he belief in the existence of angels is thus inculcated into the minds of the people, and this belief is in importance next to t he belief in God's Existence; it leads us to believe in Prophecy and in the Law, and opposes idolatry. If there had only been one figure of a cherub, the people would have been misled and would have mistaken it for God's image which was to be worshipped, in the fashion of the heathen; or they might have assumed that the angel [represented by the figure] was also a deity, and w ould thus have adopted a Dualism. By making two cherubim and distinctly declaring" the Lord is our God, the Lord is One," Moses dear ly proclaimed the theory of the existence of a number of angels; he left no room for the error of considering those figures as deities , since [he declared that) God is one, and that He is the Creator of the angels, who are more than one.

  • The Seifer Chareidim gives an answer similar to the one you say in the name of the Tur. But he adds (compared to what you wrote -- I never saw the Tur) that just as the Shechinah joins 2 friends who are studying Torah together, so too the Divine Presence is perceived from between the keruvim. I nice touch, one I think deserves folding into your answer. – Micha Berger Mar 31 '16 at 21:05
  • @MichaBerger done – sabbahillel Apr 1 '16 at 1:19
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I gave this answer previously on a related thread. I think it belongs here too.

It is known that the heathen in those days built temples to stars, and set up in those temples the image which they agreed upon to worship; because it was in some relation to a certain star or to a portion of one of the spheres. We were, therefore, commanded to build a temple to the name of God, and to place therein the ark with two tables of stone, on which there were written the commandments "I am the Lord," etc., and "Thou shalt have no other God before me," etc. Naturally the fundamental belief in prophecy precedes the belief in the Law, for without the belief in prophecy there can be no belief in the Law. But a prophet only receives divine inspiration through the agency of an angel. Comp. "The angel of the Lord called" (Gen. xxii. 15); "The angel of the Lord said unto her" (ibid. xvi. 11); and other innumerable instances. Even Moses our Teacher received his first prophecy through an angel. "And an angel of the Lord appeared to him in the flame of fire" (Exod. iii.). It is therefore clear that the belief in the existence of angels precedes the belief in prophecy, and the latter precedes the belief in the Law...From the preceding remarks it is clear that the belief in the existence of angels is connected with the belief in the Existence of God; and the belief in God and angels leads to the belief in Prophecy and in the truth of the Law. In order to firmly establish this creed, God commanded [the Israelites] to make over the ark the form of two angels. The belief in the existence of angels is thus inculcated into the minds of the people, and this belief is in importance next to the belief in God's Existence; it leads us to believe in Prophecy and in the Law, and opposes idolatry. If there had only been one figure of a cherub, the people would have been misled and would have mistaken it for God's image which was to be worshipped, in the fashion of the heathen; or they might have assumed that the angel [represented by the figure] was also a deity, and would thus have adopted a Dualism. By making two cherubim and distinctly declaring "the Lord is our God, the Lord is One," Moses clearly proclaimed the theory of the existence of a number of angels; he left no room for the error of considering those figures as deities, since [he declared that) God is one, and that He is the Creator of the angels, who are more than one.

Rambam, Guide for the Perplexed 3:45

The TL;DR for this is that the belief in one G-d, and a multiplicity of angels is fundamental to the law. Without angels, there would be no prophecy, and therefore, there would be no Torah. Therefore, the image of angels were placed in the temple to solidify belief in angels. If only one image was in there, it would have been assumed that either the angel was hashem himself being worshiped, or it would have been believed that there was only one angel, which would be a form a dualism. Therefore, two images were placed in the temple to teach the unity of hashem and the multiplicity of angels.

Because this teaching is fundamental to Judaism, hashem established the images of the angels as a positive commandment. A positive commandment always overrides a negative commandment. The worship of graven images is a negative commandment that one should die before violating. However, as the purpose of these images is to establish the foundation of torah, the exact opposite of idolatry, it is not a concern that they will be worshiped.

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