Enoch's Ascent: A Tale of a Jewish Angel

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October 24, 2009

Enoch was the son of Jared, whose worship of angels and nature, according to the ancient rabbis, began the spiritual degradation of humankind. While there is no biblical reference for this, yared in Hebrew means “to descend,” and this may have been the rabbis’ way of explaining why he bore that name. In the minds of Jews, his son Enoch became not only a human who conversed with angels, but a human who became the most powerful angel of all, Metatron, the Lesser YHVH.

William Blake

Some believe that the holy figure behind Ezekiel is not God, but Metatron

Unlike his father, Enoch refused to worship angels. Instead, he “walked with God” (Genesis 5:24).While his father continued to live and sire children for another eight hundred years, Enoch seems to have had nothing to do with him.When Enoch himself reached the age of sixty-five he fathered Methuselah, and then continued to walk with God for another three hundred years. It was then that something unusual happened: “and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:24).

The Bible makes it very clear that the human life span in those days was centuries longer than that of Enoch. In effect the 365-year-old Enoch died in early middle age. Yet to say he died at all is to read more into the text than the Bible allows. The Bible does not say that Enoch died, only that God took him. To understand why and what took place we turn to the midrash.

The answer to what happened to Enoch was linked to a book, Sefer Raziel, meaning “The Book of the Angel Raziel.” Raziel means “Secret of God,” and the book was said to contain all knowledge, both material and spiritual. According to Targum Ecclesiastes (10, 20), an early but undated collection of midrash woven from the book of Ecclesiastes, the angel Raziel stood on the peak of Mount Horeb every day and shouted out these secrets to all humankind. Clearly the Secret of God was something God wanted humanity to know, and Raziel was the means to accomplish that. To make sure this wisdom was not lost, the angel placed it in a book and gave the book to Adam.

*When the angels heard that the book had been given to Adam and that Adam’s wisdom had blossomed, they grew jealous. They wanted the book for themselves. First a band of angels came and prostrated themselves before Adam hoping in this way to cause him to sin and proclaim himself God. But Adam was not moved by their worship saying, “Do not pray to me, but with me to YHVH.”

Having failed to cause Adam to sin, the angels managed to steal the book from him and tossed it into the sea; if they couldn’t have it, at least the human would be deprived of the book as well. Adam begged God for help in finding it, and God commanded Rahab, the Angel of the Sea, to find the book and restore it to Adam.

To keep the book safe, Adam hid it in a cave, but the whereabouts of the cave was forgotten when Adam died. For centuries the book was lost, but God sent a dream to Enoch showing him the cave and commanding him to find and study Sefer Raziel. Enoch committed the book to memory, and hid it once again.*

The key here is the internalization of the book. Adam read it; Enoch memorized it, that is he became it. This is a huge step. The myth is saying that with Enoch knowledge was completely digested. Adam, as we saw, ate from the Tree of Knowledge but could not internalize it. He became achad, alienated. Then he ate the son of Samael and became even more cut off and fearful. The knowledge he gleaned from Sefer Raziel allowed him to live long, wisely, and well, but it did not transform him in any way.Why? Because he did not “eat” the book, but only read it. The knowledge did not penetrate him and transform him.

Enoch on the other hand internalized the wisdom of Raziel, and it transformed him completely, removing him from the earthly plane and taking him bodily into heaven. This again contrasts Adam’s experience. Adam was exiled from the Garden; Enoch leaves earth. Adam is cut off from his divine nature; Enoch (as we will see in a moment) loses his humanity. While Enoch is certainly the greater example of human spiritual unfolding, neither he nor Adam complete the circle. Adam does not return to the Garden and Enoch does not return to earth. Completing the circle will have to wait for other humans.

By internalizing Sefer Raziel Enoch ascends to heaven and becomes the Witness, the angel Metatron. In 3 Enoch, a third- century CE text about Rabbi Ishmael ben Elisha’s ascension to the Chariot or Throne of God and his encounter with Metatron, it is explained how he was transformed from human into angel under the direction of the archangels Michael and Gabriel:

Enoch was taken to heaven to serve as witness and to attest to God’s justice, despite the destruction decreed against the living. God established a throne for Enoch and let it be known throughout the heavens that from this moment on Enoch would be known as Metatron.

God said, “Henceforth my servant Metatron will reign over all my princes in heaven, only those angels bearing my name are exempt from his rule. Any angel desiring to speak to me will speak to him instead. Metatron will convey my will.Whatever he commands is to be done, but do not worry, for the two angels called Wisdom and Understanding are his advisors. They will make known to him the customs of earth and heaven, and fill him with the knowledge of the present and the future.”

The transformation of Enoch into Metatron was fierce: his flesh turned to flame, his bones to glowing coals, his eyes shone with starlight, and his eyeballs became fiery sparks. His entire being was a consuming fire. To his right flames danced, to his left torches gleamed, and all around him swirled gale and tornado, hurricane and thunder.

This is what the angels feared: that a human would rule over them. Not a human in its lowly and alienated state of achad, but the fully realized human who has left behind the narrow ego-centered mind and is transformed by God into one who knows the ways of heaven and earth.

Metatron, whose name may come from the Greek meta, “beyond,” and thronom, “the throne [of God],” is, as his name suggests, beyond the throne realm of even the angels and resides just below God in the theological hierarchy of the rabbinic imagination. Metatron is served by the angels of wisdom and understanding, so he himself surpasses these. His is greater than the godlike status promised to Adam and Eve by the serpent if they would eat of the Tree of Knowledge. Enoch/Metatron is immortal not in the sense of living forever in the endless stream of time, which is what eating from the Tree of Life would provide, but in the sense of having transcended time altogether.

Metatron is not an angel only, nor is he only human. He does not die or lose his body. He is not the spirit of Enoch or the soul unbound by the body. Enoch is taken to heaven both body and mind, and turned into fire, pure energy, while yet still maintaining both body and mind.

This myth of Enoch/Metatron is telling us that in some way the human embraces the cosmos. While describing this as a physical encompassing of the cosmos, the myth more likely is pointing to a level of psycho-spiritual awareness—God-centered consciousness— that sees all things as aspects of the divine. This is the I-I awareness that knows the universe as the body of God.

In his new form Enoch grew 72 wings, one for each of the 72 Hebrew Names of God, opened 365,000 eyes that he might see all that happens daily, and was transubstantiated from flesh to pure fire. He was then given a crown similar to that worn by God, and established in a heavenly Temple paralleling the Temple in Jerusalem. This heavenly Temple was called the tabernacle of the Naar, literally the Youth, referring to the Lesser YHVH that was Metatron, and it was from there that Metatron offered the souls of the righteous as penance for the Jewish people during their exile (Numbers Rabbah, 12:12).

According to the Zohar, the central text of medieval Jewish mysticism compiled by the Spanish mystic Rabbi Moses de Leon (ca. 1250–1305), Metatron is composed of the heavenly union of God’s masculine and feminine aspects (Zohar 1:143a, 162a–b). And in later kabbalistic thought Metatron appears as the angel of devekut, mystical union with YHVH (Sefer ha-Hezyanot 1:23; Otzer Chayyim folio 111a).

The Zohar says that when Adam sinned and became achad, a seemingly alienated self obsessed with its delusion of uniqueness and separation, his capacity to achieve full divine consciousness was removed from him.When Enoch was born that capacity was placed in Enoch instead where it could once again be cultivated:

Enoch was born just outside the Garden of Eden. From birth a holy light glowed within him, and covered him, and made him the most beautiful of men. Enoch sought out the Tree of Life at the center of the Garden. When he found it he breathed deeply of its aroma, and his heart filled with the spirit of the Tree. Suddenly angels from heaven descended and instructed Enoch in the deepest wisdom of God. They pulled from the Tree a book that had been hidden there, and handed it to Enoch to study. Enoch read the book carefully and found within it the most sublime paths of God. As he practiced each path the light within him became even more pure. Soon the light was at its most pristine, and it desired to return to heaven from whence it came, to manifest this purity in the very being of Enoch.

Enoch is the promise that we can overcome our human limitations and reclaim our original divine potential. Importantly the light of God began to shine “within Enoch,” and the Light of God became “perfect within him.” Enoch’s transformation is an inner one first. Only when he embodies the Light of God on earth can he become the fire body of Metatron in heaven. Enoch is symbolic of that which each of us can become, and for which all humanity was destined from the very beginning.

Metatron is called “keeper of the keys” to wisdom, and one of these keys is called “the light of discernment.” This light allows humans to explore and ultimately to grasp the most sublime mysteries of creation. “Metatron, then, is the aspect of [God’s] glory that is depicted as the measurable anthropos (human) who sits upon the throne and appears in prophetic visions.” He is the “link between the human and the divine.”

Isaiah Tishby, the great scholar of Kabbalah, in his three-volume Wisdom of the Zohar, put it this way:

The soul, which is alone the essence of man according to the Zohar, is extracted from the pure radiance of the divine emanation. It is a divine spark that has been inserted into the physical body. The soul descends and assumes a physical form only in order to acquire a special perfection in the terrestrial world … At root, therefore, in his eternal, spiritual essence, man is very near indeed to the divine realm, and his fall and contamination by sin are no more than manifestations of corruption and degeneration occasioned by his temporal, physical existence. The unique man, Enoch, who was able to achieve the ideal, supernal perfection that was indeed destined for the whole of mankind, but taken from them because of Adam’s sin, purified himself of the material defects inherent in corporeal existence, and ascended to the highest levels of the angelic hierarchy. Enoch-Metatron symbolizes the culmination of the ascent for which man is destined to strive, and in this refined image perfect man is superior to the angels.

Metatron is a metaphor for what we can become. Hence the Kabbalistic assertion that “Enoch is Metatron,” in other words, that the human is the divine and can reach the divine through the working of the angelic consciousness. Enoch doesn’t become something he is not, but realizes that which he truly is—the “Lesser YHVH,” as the Talmud puts it (Yevamot 16b; Sanhedrin 38b).

The myth of Metatron wants us to see that we are born with the capacity to transcend our limited, ego-centered mind toward God-centered spirit. And yet it is our contention that there is an even “higher” level of realization than that of Metatron. Enoch, the Lesser YHVH, becomes fully divine, but not fully human. That is to say he transcends the ego-centered mind and the world-centered soul, but does not embrace them, and hence cannot return to and operate within them in service to those humans who have not yet realized their divine nature.

These enlightened humans, those who ascend to heaven but return to earth, can be found in all cultures. In Judaism we have, for example, Elijah (2 Kings 2:1–12) who, according to the myth, was taken bodily to heaven and who returns to earth to help the needy and the lost. In Christianity there is Mary, the mother of Jesus, the revered mediator between God and humans. In the Qur’an and Hadith we learn that Muhammad ascended to heaven and returned to earth with wisdom for humankind. And in the Pure Land tradition of Buddhism, Amida Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light, in some ways parallels these ascensions, albeit in the mythic language and landscape appropriate to China and Japan.

The ascended ones have completed the journey all humans can take. They began as ego-centered minds. They met angels (meaning they unfolded their angelic potential), transcended the ego-centered realm, and entered the realm of world-centered soul. They then internalized this realm and rose even higher (or dived even deeper) into the God-centered realm of the spirit. Here they became fully God-realized human beings who completely integrated the human and the divine in themselves, and who could then return to earth to help others attempt the same.


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