The Cherubs’ Embrace

Two cherubs of gold stood on either end of the Kappores covering the Ark of the Covenant. Our Sages1 relate that when the Jewish people followed G‑d’s will, the cherubs faced each other, embracing like lovers; when the Jewish people were rebellious, the cherubs would avert their gaze and face opposite walls.

During the celebration of the pilgrimage festivals in Jerusalem, the Kohanim would unveil the Holy of Holies and show the people the cherubs’ embrace. “See the great love G‑d has for you,” they would declare, “a love like that between a man and a woman.”2

The cherubs of the Holy of Holies also figure in the nar­rative of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. Our Sages3 relate that when the gentile invaders entered the Holy of Holies, they saw the cherubs embracing. They brought them out to the marketplace and displayed them, exclaiming, “How could Israel worship these?”

As we know, during the destruction of the Beis HaMik­dash G‑d “poured out His wrath like fire; G‑d was like an en­emy.”4 Why, then, were the cherubs intertwined in love at this time of apparent anger?5 If their configuration reflected the fluctuating relationship between G‑d and Israel, what could their embrace mean at a time when “He cut down, in fierce anger, the pride of Israel?”6

G‑d’s Only Son

These questions should be examined in the more com­prehensive light of our relationship with G‑d. From the pro­phetic perspective and in the commentaries of the Sages, exile appears to be a punishment, an expression of G‑d’s wrath at Israel’s misdeeds. This view, however, reflects only one di­mension of the bond between G‑d and Israel.

At this level, the bond is dependent upon Israel’s conduct. If Israel is meritorious, she will be rewarded; if she sins, she will be punished. Beyond this connection, however, there is a deeper bond, a level at which Israel are “children unto the L‑rd your G‑d.”7 The Baal Shem Tov intensifies the child-parent metaphor:8 G‑d cherishes every Jew with the love of a parent for an only child who is born to him in his old age.

A father does not love his son only because the son is virtuous or obedient; most fundamentally, he loves him — unconditionally and unwaveringly — because he is his son. With or without redeeming qualities, his father loves him.

G‑d loves Israel in the same way. No matter what our conduct, we are His children. Therefore, even when G‑d ap­pears to be displeased with us, His love for us is revealed in the Holy of Holies, at the inner core of the Sanctuary.

Continuing with the child-parent metaphor, we can even understand G‑d’s wrath as an expression of love. It is writ­ten,9 “He who withholds the rod, hates his son,” implying that when a parent punishes a child he is in fact manifesting his love. In fact, defying one’s natural impulse to excuse mis­conduct, and instead rebuking a cherished child, demon­strates a deep and selfless commitment on the part of the par­ent.

From this perspective, though exile is obviously a descent from the majestic state to which Israel had been accustomed, we can understand that the force motivating this exile is love. In a subtle manner, which only His ultimate wisdom can fully comprehend, G‑d guides the course of His son’s development.

Descent for the Purpose of Ascent

In light of this, exile appears to be a temporary means to a positive end. Our Sages teach10 that a descent for the purpose of ascent cannot be branded a descent. By the same token, since G‑d’s purpose in exiling his people is to elevate them to a higher rung, the hardships endured are eclipsed by their ultimate goal.

In this spirit, our Sages11 teach that Mashiach was born on the very day the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed; i.e., the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash sparked the process of prepa­ration for the Era of Redemption. Concealed beneath the fall of the Jewish people is G‑d’s desire to bring Mashiach, and to elevate both Israel and the world to a state of ultimate fulfillment.

Stripping Away the Husk

Our Sages12 compare the process of exile to the sowing of seeds; as the prophet says,13 “I will sow [Israel] unto Me in the earth.” When harvested, the produce that grows from seeds greatly exceeds the quantity initially sown; this increase reflects the long-range gains of exile, as explained above.

For this growth to take place, the exterior husk of a seed must utterly decompose. Only then, can its kernel flourish into a flowering plant. In a similar way, the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and our people’s exile were intended to strip away all superficiality and allow the Jewish people to blossom into fulfillment in the Era of Redemption.

A Holiday of Redemption

In light of this, we can understand the inner dimension of a halachic observation of our Rabbis,14 that Tishah BeAv always falls on the same day of the week as the first day of Pesach. This calendric correspondence reflects an intrinsic tie: both days are associated with redemption.

Pesach marks the redemption from Egypt, and Tishah BeAv anticipates the ultimate Redemption. Every year, in fact, Tishah BeAv generates a renewed impetus for the coming of the Redemption.15

At no point in our national history has the redemptive as­pect of Tishah BeAv been as relevant as it is today, for we are at the threshold of the Redemption and, indeed, in the proc­ess of crossing that threshold.16 May we merit the completion of this process and the coming of the era when “all the [commemorative] fasts will be nullified... and indeed, will be transformed into festivals and days of rejoicing.”17 May this take place speedily, in our days.

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. II, p. 360 ff.; Vol. XVIII, p. 310 ff.