Friday, July 14, 2006

Metatron

[Ed. Note: Although I have typed the actual name of the angel Metatron as it is spelled, some halachik authorities feel that it should not be pronounced as is written and is therefore pronounced either “Mem-Tes” (the first two letters of the angel’s name) or “Metat” (the beginning half of the name, without the second half).[1]]

In the Angelology of Judaism, a certain angel named Metatron (sometimes spelled “Mitatron”) plays a prominent role. Metatron is charged with acting as G-d’s agent[2] the in daily upkeep of Earth in Olam HaZeh (“This World,” in comparison to Olam Habah, “The World To Come”). The Talmud[3] writes that before the destruction of the Holy Temple, Metatron was charged with the Torah education of all Jewish children[4]. Nachmanides writes[5] that Metatron was the angel who redeemed the Jews from their servitude in Egypt. Metatron was the being who showed Moses the Land of Israel[6], who was sent by Balak to greet Balaam[7], and in front of whom Cyrus[8], Devorah, and Barak[9] appeared. According to the Midrash[10], Metatron was the one who punished the Egyptians and liberated the enslaved Jews. Rabbi Akiva—who met Metatron— summed up[11] the angel’s role as being the “Officer of Torah.” This angel’s role is so important that some have mistakenly confused the angel for HaShem Himself. However, such a classification is heresy, and one who follows such ideas is an apostate. Metatron is subservient to G-d Himself and HaShem has shown His control and power over this angel. Historically, a few men have actually made such a mistake. Some explain that the actual identity of Metatron is that of Chanoch (Enoch) son of Yered[12].

Enoch was a seventh-generation antediluvian human, a direct male descendant of Adam. Although generally he was pious, he is seen as a somewhat dynamic character who dabbled on both the good and evil sides. As a means of stopping Enoch from totally falling to the evil side, G-d took back his soul and thereby caused his death at a relatively early age (of 365, as opposed to those in the generations before and after him who lived between seven and nine centuries). In the end of his life, the Torah states[13], “And Enoch walked with HaShem, and he was no more because G-d had taken him.” After his physical passing, Enoch was transformed into the angel Metatron[14] and was G-d’s emissary to the physical world. Rabbi Yaakov Ben Asher Ba'al HaTurim (1270-1340) writes[15] that Enoch was specifically chosen by G-d because G-d always desires “sevenths” and Enoch was a seventh generation human. Rabbenu Bachaya ben Asher (d. 1340, the same year as the Ba’al HaTurim) explains[16] that sevens (e.g. seventh day of the week, seventh year of the Sabbatical cycle, seventh month of the Jewish calendar, the seven books of the Torah[17], etc…) always has a special intrinsic holiness. This is why Enoch was taken alive as an angel to serve HaShem in His domain. He points out that the first half of the name Chanoch (Ches-Nun) equals the first half of the name Metatron (Mem-Tes-Tes, spelled without a Yud as the second letter as it is in most sources) in numerical value (58).

Many Kabbalistic works refer to the angel Metatron by another name, “Na’ar” meaning “Youth.” The Talmud writes[18] that the “Officer of the World” said the verse, “I was a Youth, and also have aged, yet I have not seen a righteous man stranded, [or] his offspring request bread.”[19] Based on this, Rabbeinu Tam[20] raised a difficulty: if Chanoch/Metatron is Youth, and the Talmud says[21] that the “Officer of the World” recited a verse describing HaShem’s honor through all his creations[22] at the time of creation, while Enoch only existed seven generations after the world’s Creation, then how could Metatron also be the “Officer of the World”? Rabbeinu Tam answered[23] that Metatron is not necessarily the “Officer of the World”, and is not called Youth because he said that he was a youth and has aged, rather he is called Youth because “Na’ar” is his proper name; “Na’ar” is seen as the name of an angel in Zechariah 2:7. The Midrash says[24] that when Bithiah ascended to the river to bathe and beheld a "lad crying" this "lad", Na'ar, refers to the angel who accompanied the baby Moses on the Nile River. One can reason that this angel who is referred to as a "lad" is indeed Metatron. Interestingly, Josephus writes that Metatron has seventy names; while other sources claim the number is at least ninety-two. According to those opinions that Metatron is the “Officer of the World”, says Rabbeinu Tam, Metatron is surely not the seventh-generation humanoid, Enoch. The Rashbam[25] says that the Tanna who authored Seder Olam, Rabbi Yosef ben Chalafta, was of the opinion that Enoch was not Metatron, although the Ramban, Ran, Rashba, and Ritva all argue[26] on this assertion.

The meaning of the word “Metatron” is unclear, although various sources explain the name differently. Modern dictionaries define the Latin prefix “meta-” as “beyond” and the Latin suffix “-tron” as “instrument”; this implies that the translation of Metatron should be “Exceptional Tool” or something similar. Rabbi Nosson Ben Yechiel of Rome (1035-1106) wrote[27] that the definition of Metator is a watchman. Rabbi Chanoch Zundel ben Yosef (d. 1867) expanded[28] this definition by explaining that a Metatar, in the Roman language, was a scout who was appointed to travel ahead of legions of armies in order to find places of rest for the proceeding soldiers. Nachmanides writes[29] that the word “Metatar” means messenger or agent in the Greek language. Rabbenu Bachaya[30] writes that the term is related to the word “Matron” or “Mother” who is a mistress of her husband’s household, just as Metatron manages and operates the household of G-d (in whatever that that is supposed to be understood)[31].

The Talmud explains[32] when G-d seemingly spoke of Himself in third person by commanding Moses to “ascend to G-d”[33]; Metatron was really the one who commanded Moses to do so. The Talmud explains that the verse actually says G-d said so because the name of G-d is equal to the name of Metatron. Rashi[34] explains that the numerical value of Metatron (again without the Yud) equals a certain name of HaShem (Shakai=314). Originally, HaShem intended to send Metatron to accompany the Israelites into the desert during their travels[35], however, as the Tosafist Rabbenu Efraim ben Efraim HaGibor (circa. 1200) explains[36], He sent Michael, the angel of mercy instead. Some explain that Metatron is the “Redeeming Angel” mentioned in Genesis 48:16[37]. Although Metatron exerts some power over the physical world, he does not have the ability to human forgive sins as HaShem does, for he is a mere messenger of G-d. Therefore, according to the exegesis of the Talmud about Exodus 23:21, HaShem warns the Jews not to confuse Metatron with Himself. Nonetheless, one did not heed to this warning.

The Talmud tells[38] that one time Elisha Ben Avuyah entered the Garden of Eden (Paradise). There he saw G-d sitting with Metatron, who as the “Scribe of HaShem” was writing down the merits of the Jewish nation. Elisha Ben Avuyah reasoned that just as one is supposed to stand in the presence of a King, one should also stand in the presence of the Lord, and the fact that Metatron sat with G-d must show that Metatron was His equal. Although G-d struck Metatron with sticks of fire (pulsa denura) to show His sovereignty over the angel[39], Elisha Ben Avuyah already made up his mind that they are equal. Because of this false premise, Elisha Ben Avuyah turned into an apostate and began preaching heresy. The Jewish Encyclopedia (1901-1906) writes[40] of varying opinions as to what was the forbidden theodology that Elisha Ben Avuyah accepted: He was a Karpotian Gnostic, a follower of the philosopher Philo Judeaus, a Christian, or a Sadducee. A dispute is also recorded[41] amongst sages of the Gaonic Period as to what Elisha Ben Avuyah’s forbidden teachings were. Rabbi Hai Gaon[42] wrote that Acher (Elisha Ben Avuyah’s name given in the Talmud after he became an apostate) succumbed to the Zoroastrian beliefs of the Magi. He believed in dual-deism including a good god, Hormizd[43], and a god of evil, Ahormin (Ormuzd and Ahriman). Rabbi Saadiah Gaon[44] writes the he believed in a dual-deism of a main god and a secondary, inferior god who ruled alongside each other. Whichever way the mistake of Acher is to be understood, one cannot argue that he concluded the truth based on his experiences in Heaven because Rabbi Akiva, his contemporary, also entered Paradise and did not make the same mistake and turn into a heretic[45]. In addition, Rabbi Yishmael Ben Elisha[46], the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) of the Holy Temple also met up with Metatron, in a vision in the Holy of Holies in the Temple, and he too did not turn to apostasy[47].

According to the Zohar[48] at the time that the Mishkan/Tabernacle was erected on Earth, there was a spiritual version of the Temple in the heaven. The Zohar refers to this Temple as the “Tabernacle of Metatron” where the angel Michael is the High Priest. The Zohar explains that just as Samuel and Joshua were guardians of the Tabernacle, and were referred to in the Scriptures as “Youth”[49], so too Metatron who is Youth was the watchman of the Temple above. The Zohar cites a story in which Rabbi Shimon praised Rabbi Chiyah and Rabbi Yose for having stayed in the Holy Temple for two days straight and having been taught there the celestial secrets of the Torah from the mouth of Metatron (who is also called the “Officer of Torah”). The Midrash also says[50] that Metatron erected a Tabernacle for G-d concurrently with the Israelites in the desert; furthermore, the Midrash also says that Metatron offers upon its altar sacrifices to atone for the Jews’ sins while they are in exile.[51]

On one occasion, the Jews heard that ten of their most important Rabbis were destined to be martyred, so Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha, the High Priest, ascended to the heavens to ask Metatron about this ruling[52]. When the earthly Kohen Gadol, Rabbi Yishmael Ben Elisha, met with Metatron, he was asked to bless G-d. He said the following prayer directed to HaShem, “May it be Your will in front of You that Your mercy should conquer Your anger and that Your mercy should be revealed amongst Your attributes, and that You shall act with Your children using the attribute of mercy, and You should treat them to a greater extent than their judgment.”[53] The Talmud also teaches[54] that G-d daily says his own form of this prayer. He says, “May it be My will in front of Me that My mercy should conquer My anger and that My mercy should be revealed amongst My attributes, and that I shall act with My children using the attribute of mercy, and I should treat them to a greater extent than their judgment.” When the Heavenly Court ruled that Jews deserved for the Holy Temple to be destroyed, G-d called in all of His creations for a trial trying each for not attempting to ask for mercy for the Jewish nation. The first of the ministering angels to be tried was Metatron. HaShem asked him, “Why have you seen My Presence has been removed, My house has been destroyed, and My children have been exiled, and you have not begged mercy for them?”[55] Indeed, just as the Jewish Nation continues daily to lament the destruction of the Holy Temple, HaShem himself cries (sighing like a dove, yet roaring like a lion), “Woe unto the sons who because of their sins I destroyed My house, and burned My halls, and exiled them between the nations.” The Midrash tells[56] that after the destruction of the Holy Temple, Metatron found G-d crying alone. He told G-d to stop crying and rather allow him to cry. However, HaShem said that He should be allowed to cry, and thus went to a place so high in heaven (that Metatron could not enter) and cried over the destruction of the Holy Temple by Himself without any interference. Both HaShem and His nation wait for the day when the Messiah will arrive and lead the building of the Third Holy Temple, speedily and in our days: Amen.



[1] Ta’amei HaMitzvos, by Rabbi Chaim Vital in the name of the Arizal, to Parshas Shemos. See also responsa Torah Lishma, §426 and §491, written pseudonymously under the nom de plume ''Yechezkel Kachali" by the Ben Ish Chai, who writes that perhaps it is permissible to pronounce the name of this angel because Rashi (to Genesis Rabbah, §5) writes that "Metatron" could also mean "leader" and is not only the name of an archangel but is also a common word, as well. However, the Ben Ish Chai concludes based on the above passage in the name of the Arizal that one should rule stringently in this matter and should refrain from fully pronouncing the name of the malach Metatron.
[2] He is not a demi-god, as many Christians would have the world think so that they can apply their ideals about their Messiah to him. They like to call him “Little JHVH” (sic), but such a statement is idolatrous and is surely heretical.
[3] Avodah Zarah 3b
[4] Perhaps he is the famed angel who, according to Niddah 30b, teaches babies all the Torah and wisdom possible and pinches them on their lips to create a Philtrum and make them forget all their learning right before they are born.
[5] Commentary to Exodus 12:12
[6] Sifri Haazinu
[7] Numbers 22:36 This is quoted by the Sefer HaAruch in the name of the no longer extant Midrash Yelamdenu
[8] Isaiah 45:2
[9] Judges 4:14
[10] Exodus 12:12
[11] See Midrash Osiyos d’Rabbi Akiva. Especially letter Tzaddik.
[12] Tosafos to Chullin 60a and Yevamos 16b discuss whether Chanoch/Metatron is indeed the “Officer of the World” who is referred to in Kabbalah as “Youth” in light of a liturgical poem for Simchas Torah which refers to Metatron as the awesome and honorable who is the “Serving Officer” of the world.
[13] Genesis 5:24
[14] Although the popular source for this story is the Book of Enoch, which was canonized into the Christian Bible, that book is not a legitimate source of Jewish theology. Rather, the proper source for the anglification of Enoch is Rabbi Yonason Ben Uziel who explicitly wrote this about Enoch in his Aramaic translation of Genesis 5:24 (Targum Yonason).
[15] Ba’al HaTurim to Genesis 5:24
[16] Rabbenu Bechaya to Genesis 5:24
[17] Counted as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers until Numbers 10:35, Numbers 10:35-36, Numbers after Numbers 10:36, and Deuteronomy
[18] Yevamos 16b
[19] Psalms 37:25
[20] Tosafos to Yevamos 16b
[21] Chullin 60a
[22] Psalms 104:32
[23] Tosafos to Yevamos 16b and Chullin 60a
[24] Yalkut Shimoni, Torah, §166
[25] To Bava Basra 121b
[26] Ad loc.
[27] Sefer HaAruch s.v. Metatar
[28] Eitz Yosef to Ein Yaakov, Chagigah 15a
[29] Ramban to Exodus 12:12
[30] Commentary to Exodus 24:1
[31] See ibid. at length for a Kabbalistic understanding of the name Metatron
[32] Sanhedrin 37b
[33] Exodus 24:1
[34] To Exodus 23:21, quoting Tikkunei Zohar 66b
[35] Instead of Himself as a punishment for the Golden Calf
[36] Rabbenu Efraim to Exodus 24:1 in standard editions, however in the version printed based on the Oxford manuscript from the British Museum (Orthodox Publication Co., 1992), Rabbenu Efraim merely references the reader to Sanhedrin 37b without adding to the Talmudic passage.
[37] Sifsei Cohen to Exodus 24:1, written by Rabbi Mordechai HaCohen of Tzfas
[38] Chagigah 15a
[39] See Maharsha, (Glosses of Rabbi Shmuel HaLevi Eidels, 1555–1631), ad loc. Others wrongly conclude that G-d was punishing the angel. However, this is obviously wrong because by definition, an angel does the will of G-d, so why would G-d punish something that has no free choice and was acting according to His wishes anyways?
[40] s.v. “Elisha Ben Abuyah”
[41] Chagigah 15a, Schottenstein ed. Ft. 23
[42] Quoted in HaKoseiv to Ein Yaakov, Chagigah 15a
[43] Mentioned in Sanhedrin 39a, and in Gittin 11a as a uniquely gentile name
[44] Commentary to Daniel 7:13
[45] Maharsha to Chagigah 16a
[46] Author of the Kabbalistic work Pirekei/Midrash/Hilchos Heichalos which reflects some elements of the Book of Enoch and is quoted in the entry on Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha in Seder HaDoros
[47] See the understanding of Brachos 7a of Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Chayos (1805-1855) printed in his glosses to Brachos 51a who quotes in the name of Rashi’s Sefer HaPardes (Pardes = Paradise) and Seder HaDoros that Rabbi Yishmael Ben Elisha met with Metatron while offering the incense sacrifice in the Temple.
[48] To Parshas Shemos
[49] Joshua in Exodus 38:11, Samuel in Samuel 1 2:18
[50] Numbers Rabbah to Numbers 12:12
[51] This again reaffirms the assertion of the Talmud, Sanhedrin 37b, that Metatron himself does not have the power to atone for sins, only HaShem Himself can forgive sins, not His angels/messengers.
[52] See Midrash Elah Ezkerah and "The Ten Martyrs" by Alter Wilner, Mossad HaRav Kook (Jerusalem, 2005) and Otzar Midrashim by Rabbi Yehuda David Eisenstein
[53] Brachos 7a
[54] Ibid.
[55] Tanna Devei Eliyahu, Zuta, 20:4
[56] Yalkut Shimoni to the beginning of Lamentations

4 comments:

Chaim B. said...

No comment on the content - just wanted to say glad to see you back

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

Thanks.

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KABER said...

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