Tag Archives: Sefer Zerubbabel

Leviathan & the Seven Serpents

‘Destruction of Leviathan’ by Gustav Doré

In this week’s parasha, Va’era, we read about Moses’ first confrontation with Pharaoh and the famous battle of their serpentine staffs. Interestingly, in last week’s parasha when Moses’ staff first turned into a serpent (Exodus 4:3), the word used was nachash, while this time it says tanin (7:9-10)! The former term certainly means a “snake”, but the latter is more general and can be any serpent, reptile, or even crocodile. Mystical texts see this as an allusion to the greatest of the taninim, created by God on the Fifth Day of Creation, the great sea dragon called Leviathan. The Zohar (II, 27b) comments here that the Leviathan was red like a rose, with iron-like scales, wing-like fins, a powerfully-thrashing tail, and fire coming out of its mouth. It has long migrations in the deep seas lasting seventy years.

Commenting on the words hataninim hagedolim, “the great sea monsters”, in Genesis 1:21, Rashi says that God originally created a pair of Leviathans, but they were so terrible that He slew the female so that the couple wouldn’t reproduce. God then “salted” its flesh and preserved it for the righteous in the World to Come, who are said to enjoy it at the “Feast of Leviathan” in the End of Days. Rashi is quoting the Talmud here (Bava Batra 74b-75a), which adds that God will make a sukkah for the tzadikim from the skin of the Leviathan. The leftover skin will be draped over “the walls of Jerusalem” and will shine and glow to wow the entire world. Perhaps that means the Kotel will have a miraculous new look in the near future, which is quite fitting since it will no longer be a “wailing” wall.

We read here in the Talmud that God castrated the male Leviathan, too, and provides a Scriptural source for it all in Isaiah 27:1, that “He will slay the Serpent that is in the sea…” The Sages ask: why did God slay the female and not the male? One answer is that the female could have still laid eggs without the male. Indeed, we know scientifically that there is a phenomenon called parthenogenesis where female fish are able to reproduce even without fertilization by a male. The Talmud then gives another answer based on Psalms 104:26, which says “There is Leviathan, whom You have formed to sport with.” God created the Leviathan just to “sport with”, and it wouldn’t be appropriate to sport with a female Leviathan, so he left the male only. (It seems gender segregation in sports is not a new issue!)

There is a way to interpret all of this metaphorically, too, and the Talmud goes on to say that the Jordan River flows into the “mouth of Leviathan”, while the ancient Seder Rabbah d’Beresheet says the entire planet “rests” on one of the fins of Leviathan. Even the Zohar has an interesting interpretation of the taninim gedolim of Creation, saying they are actually referring to the “Seventy Princes”, the Heavenly angels overseeing the seventy nations of the world. Leviathan is chief among them. From other sources, we learn that the chief of all the Seventy Princes is the angel Metatron (ie. Enoch), so we find here a link between the great Metatron and Leviathan. (This is further appropriate because the earliest known reference to a “Feast of Leviathan” is actually the apocryphal Book of Enoch!)

Mystical texts say the spirit of Metatron is found within Mashiach (see, for instance, Kol haTor), and Mashiach is destined to slay the remaining Leviathan at the End of Days, ushering in the final Kingdom of God on Earth. This, too, might be a metaphor for Mashiach subduing all seventy nations and unifying them under one God, as we read in Zechariah 14:9 that “Hashem shall be king over the entire Earth; on that day Hashem will be one and His name will be one.” In fact, the numerical value of “Leviathan” (לויתן) is 496, equal to Malkhut (מלכות), “Kingdom”. Leviathan thus corresponds to the last of the Sefirot. (We explored in the past how the changing astronomical constellations in the sky above us are shifting now to reveal this very process.) Intriguingly, we find six other terms for serpents throughout the Tanakh, and they neatly parallel the six other “lower” Sefirot from Chessed to Yesod.

The Seven (Eight?) Serpents

The most common term for a serpent is, of course, nachash. This snake corresponds to the central Sefirah of Tiferet. Tiferet is the spiritual root of all Israel, and of Mashiach in particular. This is another reason why the values of nachash (נחש) and “Mashiach” (משיח) are equal, both being 358. When Jacob blessed his son Dan, he saw a vision of Mashiach and said “I await Your salvation, Hashem!” (Genesis 49:18) Before that, Jacob fittingly described Mashiach (while seemingly speaking of Dan) as a nachash ‘alei derekh, a “snake upon the road”.

He then used another serpentine term, saying that Mashiach should also be a shfifon ‘alei orach, typically translated as a “viper upon the path”. The Maharal (Rabbi Yehuda Loew of Prague, c. 1512-1609) in Gur Aryeh connects this mysterious term with several roots, including the humbling shofef, as well as neshef, meaning an “exhale” or a “relaxation” or even a happy gathering of some sort. The shfifon (שפיפן) has positive energy, and corresponds to the loving Sefirah of Chessed. Jacob was possibly alluding to Mashiach’s role to bring all of Israel together and reconnect them spiritually through various “paths”.

On the opposite side of the Sefirotic tree we have the fiery and judging Gevurah. This corresponds to the Torah’s saraph (שרף), a “burning” venomous snake that God used to punish the people in the Wilderness for their rebelliousness (Numbers 21). To heal the people, Moses then made a nachash nechoshet, a copper serpentine rod. Now we can understand why it had to be specifically a nachash because, as we saw above, that one corresponds to Tiferet, which is said to be the source of healing and shares a root with refuah!  Mashiach, too, is said to carry a serpentine staff. In fact, the Midrash and Zohar state that a woman called “Heftzibah” will bring it to him, finding it somewhere in Tiberias where Eliyahu hid it. She is also known as Mevaseret Tzion, the “Herald of Zion”, as per Isaiah 40:9 (see Sefer Zerubbabel and Zohar III, 173b).

Next, we have the “twin” Sefirot of Netzach and Hod, corresponding to the legs. They are always referred to as being the source of prophecy. In Psalm 91 we read “You will tread on lion cubs and phethen…” The phethen (פתן) is none other than the python. It is worth noting that in ancient Greece, the python was associated with prophecy, and their prophetic Oracle at Delphi was called Pythia. In the famous messianic prophecy of Isaiah, we read of another serpent paralleling the python: “A babe shall play over the hole of a phethen, and an infant pass its hand over the den of a tzif’oni.” (11:8) The word used for a “den” here is me’urat, which can be read as m’orat, ie. “from the light [or fire] of the tzif’oni”. The Malbim (Rabbi Meir Leibush Wisser, 1809-1879) reads it this way, saying the “fiery” poison of the tzif’oni (צפעוני) will no longer harm a child in the Messianic Age. This gives us a clue that the tzif’oni corresponds to Hod, lying beneath the fiery Sefirah of Gevurah, and tempering its judgement. More significantly, we can learn from this Isaiah verse that in the Messianic Age, even a child will be able to connect to Netzach and Hod and attain the light of prophecy.

The 72 Names of God (For the origin of these Names, see here.)

Finally, the last word for a serpent in Tanakh is ef’eh (אפעה), as we read in the Book of Job that “He sucks the head of a viper; the tongue of the ef’eh kills him.” (20:16) This one parallels the Sefirah of Yesod, the domain of sexual purity. In fact, the Kabbalists teach that of the 72 Names of God, the one that links to Yesod and through which one can atone for sexual sins is חב״ו. In the Amidah, there is a kavanah to insert during the kibbutz galuyot blessing to purify one of wasted seed and other sexual issues and it quotes a well-known phrase chayil bala’a vayakienu, mibitno yorishenu El, “The riches that he swallowed he vomits; God empties it out of his innards.” The letters of the first three words (חַיִל בָּלַע וַיְקִאֶנּוּ מִבִּטְנוֹ יֹרִשֶׁנּוּ אֵל) spell חב״ו. And where does this powerful verse come from? The preceding one in Job! (20:15) Thus, we have a clear Scriptural link between the ef’eh and Yesod.

Text of the blessing, with kavanah, both highlighting the חב״ו name.

And what of the Mochin, the upper three Sefirot? Perhaps we can link them to serpentine terms outside of Scripture. For instance, there’s the Teli (תלי) of Sefer Yetzirah (6:1-2), typically understood as the dragon constellation Draco. Recall that Sefer Yetzirah is an exposition of the Lamed-Bet Netivot Chokhmah, 32 Paths of Wisdom, so the Teli is directly linked to the Sefirah of Chokhmah. Then there’s the Talmud’s Aramaic hiviya (חויא), the root of which is said to come from Eve (חוה), and her encounter with the Snake. This would parallel the “motherly” Sefirah of Binah (also called Ima). And Keter on top, the origin of all the others, would be the generic term Tanin (תנין) with which we started, referring to any of the serpents below and often used interchangeably with them, as in this week’s parasha. Altogether, we have the following array of links between mystical Sefirot and mystical serpents:

Mashiach’s Ancestry

In this week’s parasha, Vayechi, we read how Jacob gives a final blessing to his children before his passing. In concluding Dan’s blessing, Jacob says that he is eagerly awaiting God’s salvation, liyeshuatkha kiviti Hashem (Genesis 49:18). What is this referring to? We would think that the salvation will come through Judah, progenitor of David and Mashiach, not through Dan! Indeed, when Jacob blesses Judah (49:10), he says that the royal scepter will remain in his hands all the way until the coming of Shiloh, traditionally interpreted as a name for Mashiach.

On Dan’s blessing, Rashi comments that Jacob foresaw the rise of Samson—from the tribe of Dan—and was praying that Samson would be successful. In fact, as we’ve discussed before, Samson was the potential Mashiach of his generation. (This is first brought down in the Midrash, Beresheet Rabbah 98:14.) Upon closer examination, there is actually a profound connection between the tribes of Judah and Dan.

Our Sages taught that Judah was the most illustrious of the tribes, while Dan was the lowliest. In the Wilderness, the tribe of Judah led the way, while Dan was at the back of the camp. Dan was tasked with being the “lost and found”, and picking up all the things left behind by the other tribes ahead of them. This brought them tremendous merit. On a mystical level, Dan’s role is really symbolic of our mission in “finding” and restoring the lost sparks of Creation to rectify the cosmos. Although people saw Judah as the greatest and Dan as the lowliest, God saw them both as equal, and declared that He will bring representatives from the two together to build His house (Shemot Rabbah 40:4).

As such, God chose Betzalel from the tribe of Judah, and Oholiav from the tribe of Dan to build the Mishkan. The same happened with the Temple in Jerusalem, built by King Solomon from the tribe of Judah, by using resources and labour from King Hiram, whose mother was from the tribe of Dan! (Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Tisa 13) And finally, in the same vein, Mashiach will come from the tribe of Judah paternally, but from the tribe of Dan through his maternal line. (Interestingly, it is possible that King David himself had this lineage, since some hold that his mother, Nitzevet bat Ada’el, was from the tribe of Dan, too.) The root of Yehudah is lehodot, to “thank” and be “grateful”, which is partly an aspect of Chessed, the right pole of “kindness”. The root of Dan is din, “judgement”, representing Gevurah, the left side of “severity”. It is fitting that we need both aspects, right and left, in balance to bring about rectification in the universe. Mashiach is an embodiment of that balance.

Jerusalem’s Coat of Arms

Another Midrash ties this to the reason why both Judah and Dan are described in the Torah as gur aryeh, a “lion cub”, the lion being the symbol of David and of Jerusalem. In Jacob’s finally blessing in this week’s parasha, it is Judah who is called gur aryeh, but in Moses’ final blessing (Deuteronomy 33), it is Dan who is the gur aryeh. The Midrash concludes that Mashiach will come from these two tribes, “his father from Judah and his mother from Dan” (Yalkut Shimoni I, 160). There is also an allusion to it in last week’s parasha, where we read the names of the 70 members of Jacob’s family that came down to Egypt. The only progeny of Dan is Chushim (חשים), an exact anagram of “Mashiach” (משיח)! According to a well-known tradition, it was Chushim who finally put an end to Esau, and so too will Mashiach put an end to the oppression of Edom.

While Dan is called a “lion” by Moses, in this week’s parasha he is called a “snake” by Jacob. This is because the lion was the symbol of the Davidic dynasty, but more specifically, the symbol of Mashiach himself is a snake (as explored in depth here). The famous gematria of “snake” (נחש) is equal to “Mashiach” (משיח), both being 358. This really goes all the way back to Eden, where the Serpent caused man’s downfall, and so it will be the “serpentine” Mashiach who reverses that event. In Kabbalistic sources, this is the meaning of Isaiah’s description of the great final battle between the nachash bariach and the nachash ‘akalaton, the “straight serpent” and the “twisted serpent” (Isaiah 27:1). The former is Mashiach, and the latter is the embodiment of evil that will be destroyed at the End of Days.

Mashiach’s Complex Lineage

When it comes to the specific lineage of Mashiach, we know that he is a direct descendant of King David, but do we have more exact information about his lineage? The pre-Davidic lineage is somewhat clear. It begins with Abraham, from whom there are 14 generations up to David (alluded to by the value of “David”, דוד, being 14!) The key figures in between are Judah, Peretz, and Boaz. Meanwhile, Abraham’s nephew Lot plays a big role, too. Following the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot ended up being seduced by his own daughters—who assumed the whole world was destroyed and they had to repopulate the planet—giving birth to Moab and Ben-Ammi, the progenitors of the Moabite and Ammonite nations. From Moab came forth the princess Ruth, wife of Boaz and great-grandmother of King David. From Ammon came Na’amah, wife of King Solomon and mother of Rehoboam, who continued the Davidic dynasty in its third generation.

While we would assume that Mashiach is a direct descendant of David through his son Solomon, there is actually another opinion. The Zohar (III, 173b), for instance, notes that Mashiach might actually come not from Solomon, but from David and Batsheva’s third son, Nathan. (It appears that the Christians wanted to satisfy both rabbinic opinions when providing two different, contradictory genealogies for Jesus in the New Testament: one going through Solomon and one going through Nathan! The irony, of course, is that Christians think Jesus is the literal son of God, so what use is a human lineage anyway?) The dilemma gets more puzzling:

The Zohar says Nathan’s wife was called Heftzibah, and their son was Menachem ben Amiel, an epithet for Mashiach. The problem is that we also know King Hezekiah’s wife was named Heftzibah. Hezekiah was the most righteous king since his forefather David, and is certainly a progenitor in the line of Mashiach. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 98b) states that Hezekiah himself should have been Mashiach, and despite being totally righteous, had one missing quality (for more, see ‘Who is Mashiach?’). The son of Hezekiah and Heftzibah was Menashe, Judah’s longest-serving monarch. Menashe had the potential to be Mashiach, too (and did merit the longest royal reign) but fell to idolatry and wickedness. King Menashe was yet another failed messiah. Some have argued that Menachem ben Amiel and Menashe must be referring to the same person (at least spiritually). Yet Menashe comes from Solomon, and Menachem is supposed to come from Nathan. How do we solve this dilemma?

Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer comes in and, at first glance, complicates the problem further. It states (in Ch. 19) that Menachem ben Amiel is a descendant of Joseph, so he is more likely Mashiach ben Yosef, not Mashiach ben David. We might therefore conclude two things: That both Mashiach ben David and Mashiach ben Yosef are actually descendants of King David, the former through Solomon and the latter through Nathan. And, perhaps, just as the former is maternally descended from the tribe of Dan, the latter is maternally descended from the tribe of Joseph. (Maybe Heftzibah the wife of Nathan was a descendant of Joseph?)

The reality is that a person can be a direct descendant of multiple figures, especially after so many generations and so many marriages in between. Today, all Jews are Yehudim, and by default “Judeans”—even Kohanim and Levi’im are Yehudim! So, there is no reason why Mashiach ben Yosef cannot be a descendant both of Joseph and of David. He would undoubtedly be a Yehudi after all! Intriguingly, even David is called an Efrati, apparently with Ephraimite lineage in his past (see I Samuel 17:12, which begins וְדָוִד בֶּן־אִישׁ אֶפְרָתִי).

As it stands today, all the tribes have long thoroughly intermixed, and the exact lineage is no longer of significance (nor is it even traceable). What’s important are the key qualities that Mashiach must possess, and the ability for inspiring leadership and for dignified kingship, as well as, most significantly, to accomplish the tasks set out in the Tanakh (and as codified by the Rambam in Hilkhot Melakhim).

When Mashiach does come, he will merit to wield the serpentine Staff of Moses—that special tool fashioned by God at the twilight of the Sixth Day of Creation (Avot 5:6). And who will provide him with that staff? None other than the returning Heftzibah, the Mevaseret Tzion, and a fierce warrior in her own right who has the power to “slay kings”, as described in the little-known ancient Sefer Zerubavel:

“…the staff of Aaron and Moses and David king of Israel, the staff which flowered in the Tent of Meeting, and brought forth blossoms and produced almonds. And Eliyahu son of Elazar hid it in Raqat [in the territory of Naftali], which is Tiberias, and there was hidden Mashiach ben Ephraim.”

And Zerubavel ben She’altiel said to Michael [the angel]: “If it please my Lord, when will come the light of Israel? And what will be after all this?” And he said to me: “Mashiach ben Yosef will come five years after Heftzibah, and will gather all Israel as one man, and then the king of Persia will come up against Israel and there will be great distress in Israel. And Heftzibah the wife of the prophet Nathan will go out with the staff which the Lord will give her, and the Lord will make a spirit of confusion enter them, and they will slay one another, and there the wicked will die…”

Liyeshuatkha kiviti Hashem!

Who is Metatron?

In this week’s parasha, Mishpatim, we read about a large set of laws that Moses received on Mt. Sinai following the Ten Commandments. While there, God tells Moses (Exodus 23:20-21):

Behold, I am sending an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Beware of him and obey him; do not defy him, for he will not forgive your transgression, for My Name is within him.

God sends an angel to guide the Israelites through the Wilderness to the Promised Land. This is a very special angel, for God says that He has placed His Name within the angel. The Torah does not identify the name of this angel, but the Talmud does (Sanhedrin 38b):

A certain heretic said to Rav Idit: “It is written: ‘And to Moses He said: Come up to God.’ [Exodus 24:1] The heretic raised a question: It should have stated: ‘Come up to Me.’” Rav Idit said to him: “This is Metatron, whose name is like that of his Master [God], as it is written: ‘…for My Name is within him.’”

‘Angel Appearing to Joshua’ by Gustave Doré. According to the Book of Zerubavel, this was Metatron, the same angel that led the Israelites through the Wilderness.

A heretic challenges Rav Idit by saying that God should have spoken to Moses in the first person, saying “come up to Me”, not “come up to God”. Rav Idit replied that the speaker was the angel Metatron, who was sent by God to be His representative, and has God’s Name within him, as the Torah clearly states.

How do we find God’s Name within the name “Metatron”? The Kabbalists pointed out that the gematria of Metatron (מטטרון) is 314, equal to the Name of God Shaddai (שדי). However, this is only on the surface level. In reality, God’s absolute Name is the Tetragrammaton, and we do not find these four letters (Yud, Hei, Vav, Hei) in Metatron.

Of course, we must remember that the names of angels were generally adapted from non-Jewish sources, as the Talmud affirms (Yerushalmi, Rosh Hashanah 6a). How could this be? The true names of the angels had to be concealed so that people would be unable to summon them. Metatron, therefore, is not the angel’s real name. This is pretty evident in itself because anyone who first hears the term “Metatron” would never guess it is a Hebrew word. It sounds foreign, perhaps Aramaic, or more likely Greek. Indeed, some scholars have suggested that “Metatron” comes from the Greek meta and thronos, meaning “near” or “after the throne”, ie. that Metatron is the angel that sits nearest to the Throne of God, or the one that has authority right after the Throne of God. This brings us to the second place in the Talmud where Metatron is mentioned, in one of the most perplexing and intriguing Talmudic passages.

Sitting in Heaven

The Talmud relates the famous story of the “Four Who Entered Pardes” (Chagigah 14b-15a):

The Sages taught: Four entered “the orchard” [pardes], and they are: Ben Azzai, and Ben Zoma, Acher, and Rabbi Akiva… Ben Azzai glimpsed and died, and with regard to him the verse states: “Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His pious ones” [Psalms 116:15]. Ben Zoma glimpsed and was harmed, and with regard to him the verse states: “Have you found honey? Eat as much as is sufficient for you, lest you become full from it and vomit it” [Proverbs 25:16]. Acher cut the saplings. Rabbi Akiva came out safely.

…“Acher cut the saplings” [meaning, he became a heretic]. With regard to him, the verse states: “Do not let your mouth bring your flesh into guilt” [Ecclesiastes 5:5]. What was it [that led him to heresy?] He saw the angel Metatron, who was granted permission to sit and write the merits of Israel [some versions add: for one hour a day]. He said: “It is taught that in the world above there is no sitting, no competition, no turning one’s back to Him, no lethargy. Heaven forbid—there are two authorities!”

They removed Metatron from his place in Heaven and smote him with sixty lashes of fire, so that others would not make the mistake that Acher did…

In this esoteric narrative, four great mystics of the highest order are able to ascend to the Heavens. Ben Azzai died immediately, Ben Zoma lost his mind, and Elisha ben Avuya became a heretic, for which he was referred to as Acher, “the other”. Only Rabbi Akiva exited in peace. (For a deeper analysis of this enigmatic passage, see Secrets of the Last Waters.)

The Talmud relates what it was that turned Elisha ben Avuya into a heretic. He saw Metatron sitting in the Heavens, when it was taught to him that none but God sits in Heaven. He concluded that perhaps there is more than one god, and this led him to abandon the Torah. (We must remember that this was nearly two millennia ago, in a time when most of the world was still polytheistic.) Back in Heaven, Metatron was severely punished for not standing up when the Sages entered, causing Acher’s apostasy.

This narrative seems to support the Greek origins of the name Metatron. He was the angel that was permitted to sit in Heaven—like none other but God Himself—as if on a lesser throne, a throne next to God’s, meta-tron. So, what was his real name?

Becoming an Angel

The renowned scholar of Kabbalah, Gershom Scholem, researched the origins of the angel and presented his findings in an essay, “Metatron”. He found that in the most ancient texts which mention the figure (such as the Apocalypse of Abraham) he is called Yeho-El (יהואל). This is precisely what we’d expect, for angel names generally have the suffix El, and Metatron is the one who carries God’s Name, the Tetragrammaton. His real name, then, is simply the Name of God with the angelic El appended to it. In some texts, he is even referred to as the “Lesser God” (יהוה קטן). Not surprisingly, these texts didn’t make it (for the most part) to the official corpus of Rabbinic literature. They did find their way into Gnostic and Mandean texts. (On that note, it should be mentioned that Christians revere Metatron, too, as do Muslims, who refer to him as Mitatrush.)

Scholem also presents alternative possibilities to the name Metatron. It may be rooted in matara, “keeper of the watch”, or metator, “a guide” (after all, Exodus says God designated him to guide the Israelites in the Wilderness). In some ancient texts, Metatron is an angel that preceded Creation and assisted God in bringing about the physical universe. Again, this is a dangerous idea that may lead to a belief in dualism or heresy, and is a problem for a monotheistic Judaism. Instead, Jewish texts generally present the origins of Metatron in a different way.

Cover for the popular 2011 video game ‘El Shaddai – Ascension of the Metatron’, released for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Gamers play as Enoch in defending the world, and are supported by angels like Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael. The game developers clearly did their research!

The Zohar draws from the apocryphal Book of Enoch in teaching that “Enoch is Metatron” (see, for example, Zohar III, 189a). Recall that Enoch was a descendant of Adam (seven generations down) of whom the Torah states “And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years. And Enoch walked with God, and he was not; for God took him.” (Genesis 5:23-24) Thus, Enoch never died, but was taken up to Heaven by God, where he was transformed into the angel Metatron. He is the angel that “walks with God”. The one that God sent to Earth to lead the Israelites. This is a fitting role for Metatron, for he was once a man of the Earth, too.

In Jewish tradition, there are two men who became angels, and two angels who descended into this world and became like men. The latter are Shemhazai and Azazel, while the former are Enoch and Elijah. Perhaps we can say that Enoch and Elijah filled the missing spaces of Shemhazai and Azazel. Enoch became the angel referred to as Metatron, while Elijah became the angel referred to as Sandalfon. Interestingly, if Metatron’s real name is Yeho-El, then we find that the names of the two angel-men share the same letters: יהואל and אליהו. In fact, the names are just reversed, and mean the same thing!

It should be mentioned that there were those in the past who rejected the notion that Enoch became an angel. For example, Onkelos translates Genesis 5:24 to say that Enoch was “no more” because God killed Enoch! This would fit with the alternate view that Metatron has nothing to do with Enoch and was already an angel before Creation. In more recent centuries, some Kabbalists even believed there must be two Metatrons, each with a slight variation of the name (מטטרון and מיטטרון). It is also possible that the two became one: an angel called Metatron existed before Creation, and when Enoch went up to God his soul was fused with that angel.

The notion of a fusion of different souls is supported by the teachings of the Arizal (Rabbi Isaac Luria, 1534-1572). In one place, he describes how Enoch took the highest and purest soul of Adam, called zihara ila’ah, and fused together with it in becoming Metatron (Sha’ar HaPesukim on Beresheet). Elsewhere, the Arizal writes that any person who refines themselves to the highest degree, and fulfils all of their rectifications, is called a malakh, “angel” (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, ch. 39). The Arizal says this was the case with Elijah, for example, among others.

Scribing and Teaching

What is the angelic role of Metatron? We saw above from the Talmud that Metatron is the Heavenly Scribe, writing down the merits of Israel. Gershom Scholem argues that he is one and the same as the Sar HaOlam, the “prince of the world” mentioned in Rabbinic literature, appointed to watch over our Earth. The Talmud (Yevamot 16b) says that he is the subject of the verse: “I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” (Psalms 37:25) This makes sense, for Metatron began his life as the earthly Enoch; born a baby, grew to adulthood, and was then transformed into an angel with everlasting life.

The Arizal agrees, teaching that Metatron is the “prince of the seventy nations”, the angel above all the lesser angels appointed to watch over each of the seventy root nations on Earth (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, ch. 31). In the same place, the Arizal confirms that Metatron is Enoch, who never died. He also reveals that he was the angel that came to Joseph and taught him all seventy languages in one night so that Joseph could present himself before Pharaoh.

In his commentary on Sefer Yetzirah, the Ravad (Rabbi Avraham ben David, c. 1125-1198) says that Metatron was the angel that taught Moses. The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 3b) states that Metatron teaches Torah to little schoolchildren. Not much else is known of him.

In the past, various critics of Judaism have used the notion of Metatron to suggest that Jews have strayed from monotheism. This is a false claim. From its first pages, the Torah speaks of angels that serve as God’s emissaries and assistants. Metatron is just another angel, albeit one imbued with more powers than others.

This brings us back to the first Talmudic passage cited above (Sanhedrin 38b), which continues with the heretic questioning Rav Idit: “If so, we should worship [Metatron] as we worship God!” Rav Idit replied: “It is written: ‘Do not defy [tammer] him,’ meaning ‘Do not replace Me [temireni] with him.’” In a classic play on words, Rav Idit explains that when God said not to rebel against His appointed angel, He also meant not to start worshipping him in place of God.

We mustn’t forget that there is only one God whom we pray to and turn to. The Jewish people have no intercessors or intermediaries. We are Israel (ישראל), or yashar-El (ישר-אל), “direct to God”. And Rav Idit concludes in the Talmudic passage that the ancient Israelites ultimately rejected Metatron as their guide, and requested that God Himself lead them, as it is written (Exodus 33:15): “If Your Presence go not with me, raise us not up from here.”