Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Looking at God in the Eyes

No wings have ever carried a greater weight of intrigue than those of the cherubs. Situated atop the Holy Ark in the Holy of Holies, the cherubs' winged embrace has fascinated millions.

In the Talmud, a classic discussion is recorded regarding the cherubs' stance:

The Torah (Exodus 25) dictates that the cherubs were to face each other, "The cherubs are to have their wings spread upward....the cherubs are to face each other," whereas Chronicles II 3:13 states, "And their faces were to the house" (i.e. the walls of the sanctuary)- implying that the cherubs stood back to back. The Talmud resolves the apparent contradiction by explaining that when the people fulfilled the will of God, the cherubs faced each other, reflecting the sacred intimacy between God and His devoted followers. But when men disobeyed God's will, the statues of the cherubs mimicked the worsened relationship by miraculously turning their backs to each other.  

Serious relationships have the frightening capacity to make our hearts soar to the zenith of ecstasy in one instance, and then fling our souls to the abyss of despair in the next. Toward the object of our love, we can at times feel love, hate, craving, disgust, and the plethora of ranges in between. While constant, drastic shifts of feeling can sour a relationship, any healthy attachment will at some point, in some form, experience the wide scope of varying human emotions.

In general- but especially when it involves a lover- no one likes to feel disappointed. No one likes to feel hated. No one likes to feel ignored. And yet, worse than all those things combined would be the ultimate rejection: indifference. After all, it is far better to be sick than to be dead. It is far better to fail than to not attempt. It is far better to receive negative emotions from a lover than to feel the biting iciness of none at all.

This is the inner symbolism of the cherubs' back-to-back pose. When the people would please God, the cherubs would face each other, gazing at each other like two lovers living the most intimate of moments. When they would sin, the cherubs reflected the tragedy by turning their backs to each other.

But there is a far deeper interpretation by the famed mystic, Rabbi Loew of Prague, the Maharal.

He resolves the contradiction between the verses (and rereads the words of the Talmud) differently and more profoundly. He says that the cherubs would not turn their backs to each other. They would always face one another.

And yet the verse in Chronicles states that "their faces were to the house (i.e. the walls of the sanctuary)."

The miracle was much, much deeper. The statues of the cherubs would not turn around. They'd always face each other.

But if sin occurred, their gazes changed.

Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves' eyes.
            --Song of Songs 1:15

Why does God liken our eyes to those of a dove?

Doves only focus on one thing at a time, and usually, it is their mate. Because of this, they have the nickname "love birds." They are always watching each other, staring into each other's eyes like lovers who see all of life in their mate's eyes, and hence cannot stop staring. That is the gaze of love, with which we are wont to stare at the Divine when we are in love with Him.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemispheres,
Without sharp north, without declining west?
       --John Donne

But when the people shunned God, the cherubs' gaze changed. Whilst standing face to face as well, now the gaze would be blank, empty, and indifferent. They'd see through each other. They would be like lovers who could not summon enough care for each other to even show hurt or disapproval. Just blank stares...

The most hurtful thing is to be looked at....yet not seen....

And this is our true situation, our choice, with God, our Beloved. He is everywhere; we always face Him.

But are we seeing Him? When you see all the beauty and grandeur in the world around you-do you see His Light in it all? Do you see Him staring at you through the eyes of those that love you?

Or do you not see Him in all that surrounds you, though you face Him always?

The Hebrew word for "repentance" is Teshuva--Return.

Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return'?
     --Malachi 3:7

Is He not everywhere? Why does one need to "return" to Him?

Returning to Him means....seeing the Divine in all and looking back at Him as He's always looking and seeing you.

The eyes of the saint make all beauty holy and the hands of the saint consecrate everything they touch to the glory of God.
                   --Thomas Merton

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