The cherubim on the Aron are described as “each man is facing his brother.” Why is this important? Because these words are first found in Genesis, and in two adjacent verses referring to the very first relationship that went wrong!
Now Adam knew Eve his wife and she conceived and bore Cain. And she said, ‘I have acquired a man as did G-d.’ She then bore his brother Abel. (Gen 4:1-2).
The second time in the Torah where “man” and “his brother” is found is right after the Flood, where G-d reminds Noach of the prohibition against murder:
I require a reckoning for human life, of every man for his brother!
Which tells us that the cherubim are meant to represent Cain and Abel – how they should have been! Brothers who loved each other, instead of rivals. Brothers who love instead of kill. Note that Cain’s loss of self-control is the first named sin, cheit, in the Torah. Hatred is easy, but love is hard.
It is no accident that the cherubim are described using this very same expression, of “man facing his brother.” The voice of G-d comes from the empty space – the gap – between the cherubim. Why does this matter?
Because the first oseh, labor, in the Torah is of a gap:
G-d made (oseh) the expanse, and it separated the water which was below the expanse from the water which was above the expanse.
This creation is of the gap – the space in the world in which the physical can exist! It is the space in which mankind (and all of nature) exists. If G-d had not made that gap, there would have been no room for us! Or, indeed, for the coexistence of man and G-d in the Mikdash!
And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.
Which means that the mikdash, using the word oseh, is also created space. We emulate G-d’s own creative act by carving out space for the mikdash, just as He did in Genesis.
The Torah is very interested in spaces and gaps. There is a concept that G-d has to limit Himself in order for us to exist (in the Torah we cannot survive direct contact). Not only do we exist in a spiritual and physical gap between the waters above and below, but G-d’s presence is found in what seems to be empty space. We most easily find G-d in the wilderness. And G-d’s voice in the mikdash comes from the gap between the two angels. Gaps are a reminder that things may well not be what they look like: instead, they may be what we hear. So when G-d commands the mishkan, he is saying, “make a space for me of holiness, so that I may coexist in your midst.”
Just as G-d created the gap within which our world exists, we are to reciprocate by creating a gap for G-d to dwell within us. The gap between the Cherubim is the same as the gap that allows life in the world, and the coexistence of man and G-d. But only when we reach for each other, “each man for his brother.”