Absolute, but Flexible

Make two cherubim of gold—make them of hammered work—at the two ends of the cover.

Exodus 25:18 (JPS)

Make – There is no question in what is going on here. God has just instructed the fashioning of two cherubim, an entity found in heaven. The people are to make a graven/sculptured image of something in the heavens. Does this cause you to ponder? Was there not another commandment directly forbidding this?

You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth.

Exodus 20:4

So how is this possible? It is possible because God commanded it. In the fullness of His wisdom, God understands that an absolute law must have a degree of flexibility. He knows that man cannot live in a black and white scenario only, but will always be confronted with a gray area. And so God works here as well. But it is important to note that God does not allow for man to make the rules of the gray area, but He alone will provide the flexibility.

We see this flexibility all throughout the Torah.

Even in the Torah we find exceptions to overriding commands, such as “anyone who performs forbidden work on the Sabbath being guilty of legal execution,” (Exodus 35:2). But the priests performed work in the Temple every Sabbath when offering the daily communal sacrifices. Newborn boys on the Sabbath were then circumcised on the following Sabbath – the eighth day (Leviticus 18:16). The Torah strictly forbade marrying the wife of a brother, but made an exception if said brother had died without children, and encouraged a surviving brother to marry the widow who had been his brother’s wife in order to provide further his lineage. Similar exceptions are in place for wearing wool garments with tzitzit, fringes, including wool and linen. There is a positive commandment to this effect (Deuteronomy 22:12).

This dichotomy exemplified in the juxtaposition of Justice and Mercy. When one must carry out punishment in accordance with justice, it is often recognized that mercy may come into play to spare the individual on the receiving end of said justice.

And finally, although there are many commandments, many laws, they are all allowed flexibility when the choice is obedience or death… with the exception of a few. The sages understood that a dead man could not keep Torah, so it was better to remain living than to die. So if a law would be broken to keep you alive, this was allowed.

There is no action that can stand before saving life, in precedence, except: idolatry, forbidden sexual transgressions, and murder. (Ketubot 19a)

In all other laws of the Torah, if a person is commanded, ‘You must break this law or suffer death,’ that one must transgress [the law of the Torah and live], except in the case of idolatry, forbidden sexual transgressions and murder. (Sanhedrin 74a)

Allowances are provided within the strict adherence to Torah. But these allowances do not open up the complete disregard of God’s teachings. They do not undermine the instructions of God throughout the Bible. They are provided to give us flexibility within the borders and limitations that our Heavenly Father has set around His children.

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