“Every Angel is terrifying.”
Rilke, Duino Elegies
Metatron is the highest angel in Jewish angelic lore, second to God only. This position has made him an ambivalent figure; is he God’s servant or rival?
Jewish angelology has ascribed him many titles like: Prince of the World, the lesser YHWH, Prince of the Countenance.
Tikkunei Zohar (appendix to the great Jewish medieval kabblistic text of the Zohar) describes Metatron as the ruler of the lower realm of the Tree of Knowledge; that is the world of separation and Kellipot (evil) in contrast to the sacred divine realm. Controlling evil, he not only has to keep the balance between mercy and judgment in the Tree of Life, but to substitute God who remains uncontaminated by evil yet distant…
The Hekhalot (Palaces) literature from the first century C.E. identifies Metatron with God’s glory. He is said to govern the world and depicted as the visible manifestation of divine presence and glory.
Metatron resides in the heavenly realm among cherubim and angels who bow before the celestial chariot (merkabah). Being the highest angel he can act on behalf of his human adjurers. Consequently, Metatron features as one of most popular targets of adjuration and magic in Hekhalot, and his name is recited in various imcantations in order to gain influence over divine powers and command protection, health, or exorcism of demons. In fact, Metatron’s power is so great that at times, the Hekhalot literature confuses him with God.
We find such mix-up also in the Talmud, in the story of Elisha who ascended to heaven and saw Metatron sitting on a throne at the door of the seventh palace, judging the angels. To this Elisha exclaimed: “There are indeed two powers in heaven!”
Later Kabbalists identified Metatron as the creator of the world. This view was even demonstrated with the use of gematria, the study of the numerical value of the Hebrew letters. Accordingly, the words “governs the world” and one of God’s names, Shaddai, have the same numerical value: 314. This of course was used to prove that they are one.
Metatron is a protean figure with unexpected twists. He is not only confused with God, but at times even referred to as the Shekhina, the feminine aspect of God. Further, early tradition claims Enoch, one of Noah’s ancestors, ascended into heaven and united with Metatron. Lurianic Kabbalists, and later Hasidic rabbis, adopted Enoch’s figure as a cobbler who mends the ruptures between the divine realm and our world.