It’s direct, it’s intimate, it’s engaging.
There is more to be gained in a room than in a Zoom!
If there’s a choice and you’re not in a pandemic, take the facial over the digital any day!
The Torah calls it “panim el panim – face to face”. Those words describe the singular relationship of God and Moses. Their communication was a model of intimacy, deep communication, depth of understanding.
The approach also describes the sculpture in Judaism’s most holy space, the sacred ark, Aron HaKodesh, that was placed within the most spiritual space, the holy of holies.
At the very heart of the temple was the ark.
Covering the ark were two figures facing one another. They are called cherubim or cherubs and often associated with the faces of children.
The Talmud, however, also offers a different explanation. These, it says, weren’t cutesy little angel faces but in fact the face of a man and a woman.
They were equal in stature, direct in their eye contact, wings spreading above them.
This is an astonishing idea, given Judaism’s rejection of material images as evident in the Ten Commandments.
It seems an exception was made in order to convey a potent idea. The sculpture was made out of one tempered golden sheet and in the space between the two figures, the divine energy and voice was at its most powerful: “I will commune with you there, speaking to you from above the ark cover from between the two cherubs that are on the ark of testimony; in this manner I will give you instructions for the Israelites” (Shemot 25:22). It was a portal to another time and place, a Divine destination.
Perhaps the most astonishing feature is the fact that God chooses to communicate from the very space between these two loving figures. In other words, God lives in the hearts of those who give to one another, who reach out to communicate directly and genuinely face-to-face, eye-to eye, soul-to-soul.
Living in these challenging COVID times, when immediate intimate communication is so fraught, we should appreciate even more how much is to be gained when we can engage in direct dialogue. It should remind us that our communication through emails or text, Teams or Zoom are not the most authentic way of engaging. It should also remind us that so much is lost in translation, in the indirect interaction, and therefore how much more careful we should be in the way we speak, text and present in our social media interactions.
Let us increase our thoughtfulness and patience in this convoluted environment. Let us exercise compassion and gentleness despite the lack of directness. In this way we allow God to enliven and enrich the spaces between us and to enter our hearts.
Ralph Genende is Senior Rabbi of Jewish Care and Kehilat Kesher – the Connecting Community.