There are many instances of chariots in Tanach: from Joseph’s, which is indicative of righteous leadership and power (see Genesis 41:43, 46:29, and 50:9); to Pharaoh’s, which is indicative of wrongful leadership and power (see Exodus 14:6, 7, 9); on to a slew of various leaders’ chariots (see the books of Kings, Chronicles, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Minor Prophets for example). But the most famous of all is the one cited in the very first chapter of Ezekiel — where the word “chariot” itself is never mentioned, but which is certainly understood and referred to in later writings.
In any event, at bottom a chariot is this: it’s a vehicle that allows its occupant to move at great speed without expending energy of his own, and that allows him to sit at ease while commanding a world of things that rush about at great speed about him following his orders. It’s clearly symbolic of the way of a thought sitting in the center of the mind unmoved yet affecting the entire thinking process; of the soul sitting in the center of the being unmoved yet affecting the entire self; and of God Almighty sitting in the center of the cosmos unmoved yet affecting the whole of it. And it’s easy to understand the eventual use of this symbol in the Tradition.
(c) 2013 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman
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