This time of year, late January, the fat little cupids that line the store aisles are frequently referred to as cherubs. There is, most certainly, a fascinating history as to how a Roman deity (Cupid) came to be called by the name of one type of melachim, angels, mentioned in the Torah.
Cherub is a transliteration of the Hebrew k’ruv, most often used in its plural form k’ruvim. The k’ruvim are mentioned* in Exodus 25:18, when God instructs “You shall make two k’ruvim of pure gold.”
The pure gold k’ruvim were placed at either end of the cover of the Ark of the Testament. The Scripture further describes “and the k’ruvim shall spread out their wings on high, screening the ark-cover with their wings, with their faces one to another, toward the ark-cover shall the faces of the k’ruvim be…and I [God] will speak to you [Moses] from between the two k’ruvim that are on the Ark of the Testimony of all things that I will give you to command the Children of Israel” (Exodus 25:20,22).
One of the most meaningful insights into the k’ruvim is found in the disagreement between Rabbi Johanan and Rabbi Elazer in the Talmudic tractate Baba Batra 99a: “One Says: They [the cherubs] faced each other; and the other says: Their faces were toward the walls of the tabernacle… [This is] no difficulty: The former [was] at a time when Israel obeyed the will of the Omnipresent; the latter, at a time when Israel did not obey the will of the Omnipresent.”
Did the k’ruvim change their position? If not, were they facing inward or outward? The truth will not be known until the Ark of the Testimony, which has been lost/hidden since the destruction of the First Temple, is once again found. The meaning of the passage, however, demonstrates the belief in God’s love for the people of Israel that He would provide a visible sign of when they had his favor.
*The first mention of k’ruvim is in Genesis 3:24, when God placed k’ruvim to guard the Garden of Eden.