In this week’s Torah portion, the two cherubim statues stationed on either side of the ark are described as facing one another. (Exodus 25:20) The Book of Chronicles II describes them as facing inward. (3:13) Why the apparent contradiction?
The Talmud explains that when the people did God’s will, the statues faced each other. When the people failed to do God’s will, the faces were turned away. Rabbi Yitshak Elchanan Spektor, Rav of Kovno, explained the connection: When we face each other, concerned for one another, we may do God’s will. But when we are facing inward, gazing solely upon our own affairs, then we are not doing God’s will.
The leaders of Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev’s community decided to affix a charity box to the door of the synagogue so that charity could be given anonymously, which is meritorious, for it spares the feelings of the recipient. Nonetheless, the rabbi objected, for it also deprives the giver the opportunity to encounter the humanity and suffering in the face of the recipient, and it deprives both of the hand to hand, face to face bond of human recognition; however fleeting.
Sometimes it feels more efficient, or safer, to deal with people and their issues by texting into a phone, holding a closed-door discussion at a meeting, or by mailing a check. But peering into the face of our fellow human being, especially when it would have felt more efficient or safe to establish more distance, can be transformational.
( Republished from February 2019)