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Chanoch – the angel with human qualities – Midrash Rabbah on Parshat Bereishis

The Torah describes how Chanoch left this world for parts unknown and for reasons unknown. There are only two verses in the Torah to provide some clues:weeyyu6

וַיְהִ֖י כׇּל־יְמֵ֣י חֲנ֑וֹךְ חָמֵ֤שׁ וְשִׁשִּׁים֙ שָׁנָ֔ה וּשְׁלֹ֥שׁ מֵא֖וֹת שָׁנָֽה׃ 

וַיִּתְהַלֵּ֥ךְ חֲנ֖וֹךְ אֶת־הָֽאֱלֹהִ֑ים וְאֵינֶ֕נּוּ כִּֽי־לָקַ֥ח אֹת֖וֹ אֱלֹהִֽים׃                

“And all the days of Chanoch were three hundred and sixty five years. And Chanoch walked with God and he was gone because God took him.” (Bereishis 5:23&24).

The Midrash has two opinions as to why Chanoch was taken. רַבִּי חָמָא בַּר הוֹשַׁעְיָא  said that Chanoch was on the ledger of those who sinned. רַבִּי אַיְבוּ said that Chanoch was fickle. Sometimes he was righteous and sometimes wicked. Therefore God took Chanoch while he was still righteous. 

Since when does God remove people before they go bad?

The implication seems to be that God tampered with Chanoch’s free will. The commentary to Midrash Rabbah, Yiffei Toar, brings up several theological issues. One the one hand we have a concept brought down in the Mishna in Tractate Sanhedrin (71B) –ימות זכאי ואל ימות חייב  “Let the “rebellious son”  (בן סורר ומורה) die while he is innocent” (before he will be guilty of committing major crimes for which he will be put to death.” This seems to support the highly unusual preemptive nature of God’s action. Yet, we have a seemingly opposite principle which emerges from the story of Yishmael. God judged him בַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר הוּא שָֽׁם “as he is now” (Bereishis 21;17), not by how Yishmael will turn out. That’s why God miraculously provided a well of water to keep Yishmael alive as a child even though he would go on to be a major protagonist to the Jewish People. 

In terms of where Chanoch was taken, the Yiffei Toar quotes the minor tractate מסכת דרך ארץ זוטא which lists Chanoch as being among those who entered Gan Eden in his lifetime. However there are other sources that say that he simply died. 

An approach to the mystery of Chanoch

The great defender of Torah in Germany,  Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch (1808 – 1888) focused on the fact that the Torah used a similar phrase to portray Chanoch as we find for Noach. 

וַיִּתְהַלֵּ֥ךְ חֲנ֖וֹךְ אֶת־הָֽאֱלֹהִ֑ים “And Chanoch walked with God.”  (Bereshis 6:9)   

אֶת־הָֽאֱלֹהִ֖ים הִֽתְהַלֶּךְ־נֹֽחַ “With God did Noach walk.” (Bereishis 5:24). 

Rav Hirsch concluded that although Chanoch achieved great spiritual heights, he shared a common deficit with Noach. Namely, Noach was not able to influence others in his generation. Perhaps Rav Hirsch felt that the fact that Chanoch was “taken” was both a reward for his spiritual achievements but also recognition of his spiritual ineffectiveness.

What became of Chanoch

Although the Midrash seemed to imply that Chanoch was taken because he was struggling spiritually, many sources disagree*. In fact, the collection of Midrash called מדרש אגדה  says that after going to Gan Eden, Chanoch became the angel Mitatron. 

לפי שהיה צדיק, הקב”ה לקחו מבני אדם ועשה אותו מלאך והוא מטטרון,

Since he was a righteous person, God took him from among humans and made him an angel, known as Mitatron.” (Midrash Aggadah  Bereishis 5:24) 

If you thought that the idea of a guardian angel is esoteric, the Talmud mentions Mitatron in at least 5 tractates: From Sandhedren 38B we learn that, as a punishment for the sin of the Golden Calf, Mitatron was the angel that was supposed to lead the Jews into Israel instead of God. However, Moshe protested against this arrangement and God accepted Moshe’s plea. (Shemot 33;15-17).

Although Mitatron’s name is not spelled out in Chulin (60A),or Yevamot, (16B) Tosafot says that in both cases the reference to שר העולם (the world’s Ministering angel) is none other than Mitatron. Finally, one view in Avoda Zara (3B) is that prior to the destruction of the Temple, Mitatron had the vital role of teaching knowledge to newly weaned children.

In Chagigah (15A) we find that  מֶיטַטְרוֹן (Mitatron) was visible in heaven. The great sage אֱלִישָׁע בֶּן אֲבוּיָה (Elisha ben Avuya) found this troubling because he had the erroneous impression that God was sharing his authority with an angel. Elisha ben Avuya lost his faith and became known as אַחֵר (Acher). To prevent Mitatron from causing spiritual damage to anyone else, Mitatron was removed from his place in heaven.

Why was Chanoch the one chosen to become Mitatron?

As we mentioned, Midrash Rabbah has different opinions about Chanoch. One view is that he went off the straight and narrow, the other is that he wavered between good and bad. Perhaps Chanoch was chosen to be Mitatron because he understood Mankind’s struggle with staying on the right path. As it says: “A Tzaddik falls seven times and rises.” (Mishlei 24:16). What better qualities for an angel to have, then understanding Mankind’s struggle with their faith in God.

* In the interests of full disclosure, there is an old Midrashic source, ספר הישר, (Sefer Hayahshar) that describes Chanoch as a great spiritual leader of the entire world. Eventually he was asked to rule the upper realms, so he left this world. Although his son took over, subsequent generations rebelled against his spiritual teachings.

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About the Author
After college and Semicha at Yeshiva University my first pulpit was Ogilvy where I wrote TV commercials for brands like American Express, Huggies and Duracell. My passion is Midrash Tanchuma. I am an Architect of Elegant Marketing Solutions at www.mindprintmarketing.com. We are living in (where else) the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem.
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