Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Resting on the Seventh Day

Essay One: Resting on the Seventh Day
After the Six Days of Creation, G-d completed the world by finally introducing a new concept, namely, rest[1]. On the Seventh Day, G-d rested from the labor of creating the world. In contrast to G-d, human beings are warned not to rest, as the Torah says, “Day and night, they shall not rest.[2]” The Talmud understands[3] based on this verse that Noahides are enjoined not to rest for even one “day and night” period. This means that while a Jew has a commandment to rest, or cease from work, on the Seventh Day of the week (Saturday, i.e. the Sabbath), a Noahide has not such a commandment. On the contrary, such respite is forbidden to a Noachide, whether on Saturday (like the Jews), Sunday (like the Christians), or Friday (like the Muslims). Accordingly, if the patriarchs of the Jewish Nation, Abraham, Issac, Jacob, and their family, had the halachik status of Noachides and not Jews, then they were not allowed to observe the Sabbath laws. This is because such rest for a Noachite, according to the Talmud, is punishable by death. The various rabbinic commentaries explain the rationale for this law.

Rashi[4] merely explains that it is forbidden for a Noachide to rest and/or cease from his work[5]. Rashi specifically referred only to a male Noachide, implying that this prohibition of rest is only for a man. Perhaps the explanation of Rashi can be that when Adam sinned by eating the Forbidden Fruit, he was punished by all future males having to work, “with the sweat of his brow.[6]” This implies that HaShem expects man to work continuously without rest. However, two thousand four hundred and forty-eight years later, HaShem granted the Jews a special present, namely, the Holy Sabbath[7], with which they can rest, in contrast to the remainder of society. Therefore, world society is not allowed to rest because of the curse of Adam, while the Jews are allowed to rest because the Torah specifically calls for a Mitzvah of Shabbos, which was a unique gift granted to the Jewish Nation[8]. According to this explanation, however, it is difficult to understand how the Patriarchs were allowed to keep the Shabbos[9] if they lived before the giving of the commandment of Shabbos (at Marah[10], on the way to Mount Sinai), and should have been bound by the Noahidic prohibition of rest. Rabbi Meir ben Todros HaLevi Abulafia (1170-1244) explains[11] that the gift of Shabbos was given specifically to the Jews, and therefore if a Noahide keeps Shabbos, he is actually stealing from the Jews and is therefore liable for the prohibition of stealing (which is one of the Seven Noachide Laws).

The Maharsha explains[12] that the Sabbath is, metaphorically, a bride. Indeed, the Talmud refers[13] to the Sabbath as a bride and the Shabbos is greeted in the same way that a bride is greeted[14]. This imagery was immortalized by Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz (a 16th century poet and Kabbalist from Tzfas) in his classical liturgical song, Lecha Dodi, which is sung just before the reception of the Holy Shabbos. Rabbi Avraham Sperling writes[15], based on this allegorical comparison, that “Shabbos” is the female companion to the Israelite nation. The Jewish Nation is “married” to Shabbos. Therefore, when a non-Jew follows the rules of Shabbos, it is as if he is committing “adultery” with the married bride “Shabbos”, and so he is liable for the death penalty. However, before the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, Shabbos did not yet have any marital connection to the Jewish Nation, and therefore, the patriarchs of the Jewish Nation, even if they had the halachik status of Noachides, were allowed to observe the laws of Shabbos in its entirety[16].

Maimonides writes[17] that the prohibition of a gentile observing Shabbos is a part of the general prohibition for gentiles not to innovate novel laws[18]. Rabbi Dovid Ibn Zimra (1479-1573) explains[19] that according to Maimonides gentiles are not allowed to keep the Sabbath as if they were commanded to do so, rather they are only allowed to observe it as means of acquiring merits, but not as a means of fulfilling a commandment because they have no such commandment. In light of this, Rabbi Moshe Sofer[20] explains the words of an enigmatic Talmudic passage[21], which states that if a non-Jew rests on Shabbos, he has fulfilled the commandment of resting. A non-Jew is only not allowed to rest when doing so as part of a “religious service”, however, a non-Jew can rest and get the reward for fulfilling the commandment of Shabbos in doing so. This is true if the gentile personally accepts upon himself not to worship idols. Keeping Shabbos and abstaining from idols are really the same because Shabbos is testimony[22] to the fact that HaShem created the world, while idolatry denies this truism. Therefore, a gentile who specially avowed not to worship idols (ger toshav) is also obligated to keep Shabbos and thereby has no prohibition of resting[23]. Perhaps the patriarchs of the Jewish nation before the Sinaitic Revelation had the status of such Noachides, and were thus able to observe properly the Shabbos.

Rabbi Yitzchack Zev Soloveitchik writes[24] that the forefathers of Jewish Nation, while personally they lacked the status of Jews, they still had within their possession the item of Torah. This difficult concept can be explained that while they were not the gavra (lit. person) of Jews, they had the cheftza (lit. article) of Torah[25]. Accordingly, even though the forbearers to the Jews had the technical halachik status of Noachides in them, their Torah is the same Torah as accepted by the Jews at Mount Sinai. Therefore, when they observed Shabbos, they were not creating a new religious ritual, which— according to Maimonides—is forbidden for a Noachide to do, they were merely following the Torah. The way that a Jew can observe Shabbos even though a prohibition of resting exists on the rest of humanity is the same way that the pre-Sinaitic followers of the Abrahamic tradition were able to observe Shabbos (see below).

The Gemara initially thought[26] that gentiles are not aware of their Mitzvah of Shabbos. If they do not know about their prohibition of rest, then how can they ever be punished for resting from work? Based on the opinion of Maimonides that a Noachide is only forbidden to observe Shabbos as if he was commanded to do so, the Maharsha explains[27] that anyways a gentile needs certain intent to be held responsible for illicitly having a day of rest. Thus when the Talmud described that gentiles can be punished (by G-d, not people) for not upholding the Torah[28] this also includes even the commandment of Shabbos. However, Rabbi Meir Ben Yaakov Schiff (1608-1644) asks on the Maharsha[29] that nowadays gentiles do indeed know about the commandment of Shabbos, so they should all be punished if they rest, so why did the Gemara try to say they would be exempt from punishment[30]. Rather one must explain the Gemara like Rabbi Shlomo Luria (1510-1574), who said[31] that had the commandment of Shabbos been secretly given to the Jews, not in the presence of the entire world like all the other commandments, and then the gentiles would have a justification for not keeping their own laws. That is, they could claim that they are being maltreated because the Jews have a day of rest once a week, while they cannot rest because of “day and night they shall rest.[32]” According to Rabbi Luria, the reason why the Mitzvah of Shabbos was given publicly like the others was to counter this claim of the gentiles.

Several Rabbis offer technical answers as to how the forefathers of the Jewish Nation were able to observe Shabbos against the rule prohibiting a non-Jewish day of rest. All of the thirty-nine forbidden labors on Shabbos are only forbidden when they meet certain criteria, but when these criterions are not met, the forbidden labors are actually permitted[33]. Rabbi Yosef Babad answers[34] that in order for “carrying in a public domain” to be prohibited one must carry the size of a dried fig, so those Jews before Mount Sinai would keep Shabbos, but would carry in a public domain less than the amount proscribed in order to have not been “resting” for Shabbos. Similarly, Rabbi Moshe Sofer answers[35] that when one wears clothing, the prohibition of carrying does not apply to the clothing being worn, and therefore the pre-Sinai Jews wore Tzitzis on Shabbos. For a Jew, they were not carrying on Shabbos because Tzitzis is a garment that is worn, so they kept Shabbos. Yet as a Noachide, Tzitzis is not a piece of clothing[36] but is rather a burden, so they were considered carrying the Tzitzis and thus were not resting on Shabbos as is forbidden to a non-Jew. Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi ben Aryeh Leib Jolles answers[37] that the forefathers did labors which were unneeded for themselves and there were technically not forbidden. Others answer[38] that—assuming a non-Jew’s agency gives him the halachik status of an agent that can cause an action to be considered the sender’s action[39]—the forefathers used messengers on Shabbos to perform forbidden labors[40]. For a Jew, the messenger is not an agent for the sender if he is doing a sin[41]. While for a Noachide, there is no sin in performing labors on Shabbos so the agent’s actions are considered the sender’s, and as a result, it is as if they themselves performed the labors so they did not rest on Shabbos to have violated the injunction against doing so.

Rabbi Pinchas HaLevi Horowitz writes[42] that the forefathers did indeed completely observe the Sabbath, but they did so in a way that is was permissible for Noachides. According to Rabbi Horowitz, the Noachide prohibition of observing a day of rest applies specifically if that day is a day followed by a night, as he writes that for a non-Jew—and the entire civilization before the Revelation at Mount Sinai— the day precedes the night. The forefathers, therefore, observed the Sabbath as is prescribed by the Torah (and is presently practiced), with the night preceding the day, yet were not liable for the death penalty for observing a day of rest since it was not a day followed by a night. Rabbi Horowitz proves that the day came before the night in the pre-Sinaitic world by explaining that sometimes the Torah mentions the day and then the night, while sometimes it is vice versa, implying a switch.

However, Rabbi Ya’akov Ettlinger rejects[43] this proof and says that the Torah always writes the day before the night, save for four exceptions. Each of these four exceptions, Rabbi Ettlinger writes, has a specific reason why the night was written before the day. In Deuteronomy 28:66, the Torah refers to the night before the day because the night is the subject of the verse, which discusses fear because fear is more prevalent at night; the same is true with the guarding at night of Kings 1 8:29. In Esther 4:16 and Jeremiah 14:17 refer to the night before the day as times of crying and mourning based on another verse[44] which describes such weeping and lamenting at night. Furthermore, argues Rabbi Ettlinger, the Mishnah explicitly writes[45] that ever since the Six Days of Creation the night precedes the day, and not the converse. An additional question on Rabbi Horowitz is raised by Rabbi Akiva Eiger[46]: Tosafos[47] were bothered by the fact that if there was a prohibition of resting from work, then such a prohibition should apply to Jews also, despite the Jewish commandment of Shabbos. If Rabbi Horowitz’s assumption is correct and that the prohibition for Noachides to rest is only a day followed by a night, then Tosafos should have no question because Jews rest for a night then day on Shabbos, not vice versa. The only time Tosfos’ problem of resting would be present would be the rare instances when Yom Kippur occurs on either the day before or after Shabbos (i.e. Friday or Sunday) in which case Jews end up resting for a day followed by a night (plus more)[48].

Rabbi Ettlinger offers another explanation as to how the forefathers before the acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai were able to observe Shabbos properly despite the ban on non-Jew day of rest. He explains that for a Jew there are only thirty-nine categories of prohibited labors outlawed on Shabbos. However, a Noachide can fulfill his obligation to not rest from labor by performing any labor, which need not be of the thirty-nine categories of labor. Therefore, the forefathers would perform labors which are not part of the thirty-nine and are permissible to be done on Shabbos, yet they are still not considered resting because they performed some type of labor. The term used in the Torah for the outlawed labors is not ‘Avodah which means merely “work” but is rather melacha which means a specific type of work, that is, work which was performed in preparation and construction for the Tabernacle. Shabbos is a representation of the Holy Temple and the fact that even when the Messiah will finally arrive, Shabbos will supersede the construction of the Holy Temple because the commandment of Shabbos is so powerful[49]. However, the Messiah can only come to rebuild the Holy Temple once the entire Jewish nation properly follows two weeks of Sabbaths[50]. May it be HaShem’s will that that day shall come speedily and in our days: Amen.

[1] See Beis HaLevi to Genesis 2:2
[2] Genesis 8:22
[3] Sanhedrin 58b
[4] To Sanhedrin 58b
[5] Indeed this is the foundation of what Shabbos is. The responsa of the Radbaz (Volume 2, §76) explains that the foundation of Shabbos is to work for six days and rest on the seventh, which is what one is supposed to do if he loses track of the days of the week and cannot find out which day is Saturday to observe Shabbos on (see Shabbos 69b).
[6] Genesis 3:19
[7] Beitzah 16a
[8] Maharsha to Shabbos 10b
[9] As is proven in the beginning of Parshas Derachim from Genesis Rabbah 79:6 and 92:4 concerning Jacob and Joseph, respectively
[10] Exodus 15:25
[11] Yad Ramah to Sanhedrin 58b
[12] To Sanhedrin 58b
[13] Bava Kama 32a
[14] Therefore, according to some halachik authorities, a quorum of ten Jewish men is required for the Kabbalas Shabbos (Accepting/Receiving the Shabbos) services on Friday night, just as a quorum of ten Jewish men is needed to recite the Seven Nuptial Blessings of a Jewish Wedding (see Chavatzeles HaSharon to Parshas Noach)
[15] Ta’amei HaMinhagim, pg. 502 (Eshkol Ed.)
[16] See footnote ** ibid.
[17] Maimonides, Laws of Kings 10:9
[18] Maimonides writes that although this prohibition is not punishable with death, only floggings, gentiles should be warned that they could be liable for the death penalty as a means of deterring them from sinning through rest.
[19] Radbaz ibid. 10:10
[20]Chasam Sofer to Chullin 33a
[21] Nedarim 31a
[22] This is why in halacha the recitation of Genesis 2:1-3 on Friday night is to be done with at least two men because in halacha witnesses in a legal setting can only come in pairs
[23] See Rashi to Yevamos 48b who says that a Ger Toshav is supposed to observe Shabbos; however, see Tosfos there
[24] Kuntres Moadim (stencil)
[25] Please excuse the inexplicable “Yinglish” rendering.
[26] Beitzah 16a
[27] To Beitzah 16a
[28] Avodah Zarah 2b
[29] Maharam Shiff to Beitzah 16a
[30] The Maharam Shiff also proves his point through Rashi to Sanhedrin 58b, cited above
[31] Maharshal, Chochmas Shlomo to Beitzah 16a
[32] Genesis 8:22
[33] At least some are permitted while others are only exempt from punishment, but are forbidden both technically and practically.
[34] Minchas Chinuch §32, Musach HaShabbos
[35] Chasam Sofer to Shabbos 139b in the name of an anonymous Rabbi, some explain that the source of this was the author of the responsa Cheshek Shlomo, Rabbi Shlomo Cohen of Vilna
[36] Because a Noachide has no commandment to wear fringes on a four-cornered garment
[37] Melo HaRoim
[38] Responsa Zayis Ra’anan, Volume 2
[39] Magen Avraham, Orach Chaim, §448:4 asserts such a rule, although it is highly disputed by others
[40] This is only Rabbinically forbidden nowadays for Jews. Rabbi Elya Svei (former Rosh HaYeshiva in Philadelphia and head of Agudas Yisrael of America) uses the Rabbinic status of the prohibition of telling a non-Jew to do work on Shabbos as a proof that the prohibition is not the actual deed that is done, but rather the outcome of the actions (Shiurim of Rabbi Elyah Svei, Yevamos 5a).
[41] There is no agency for sinning, see Kiddushin 42b, Bava Kama 51a, 79a, and Bava Metzia 10b
[42] Sefer HaMakneh to Kiddushin 37b and Panim Yafos to Parshas Noach
[43] Binyan Tzion §126
[44] Lamentations 1:2
[45] Chullin 83a
[46] Responsa, first volume, §121
[47] To Sanhedrin 58b
[48] This is because only the level of “resting” on Yom Kippur is equal to that of Shabbos concerning the abstinence from work.
[49] Yevamos 6a
[50] According to Shabbos 118b, the Messiah will arrive after the entire nation properly observes two Shabbosim (or Shabosos), however another passage in the Jerusalemic/Palestinian Talmud, Ta’anis 1:1, says that the Messiah will arrive after one such Shabbos. HaShem should allow that day to come soon.

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

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