The angel Sandalphon appears prominently in the ancient divine-chariot mysticism known as Ma'aseh Merkavah. In the following midrash, Sandalphon is in intimate attendance upon God Himself.

There is a certain angel, tells us R. Eleazar, who stands on the earth with his head reaching up close to the celestial creatures. His name is Sandalphon.[1] This angel is identified by the mystics as the "ofan," the wheel of the divine chariot which appears in Ezekiel's famous vision and call to prophesy: "Now as I beheld the living creatures, behold one wheel upon the earth by the living creatures."[2]

According to the Talmud,[3] Sandalphon is so much taller than his fellow angels, that it would take five hundred years to journey across his height. It is said that he stands behind the divine chariot, weaving crowns for his Maker; he adjures each crown [he wreathes] so that rises of its own accord and reposes upon the head of the Lord. When a crown goes forth from Sandalphon, all the hosts on high grow fevered with excitement and shaken with emotion. The celestial creatures, silent until now, roar like lions, crying out at this instant, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory."[4]

When a crown reaches God's throne, the wheel of the throne revolves and the supports of the footstool tremble. All the firmaments are seized with a shudder of terror. As the crown rises up above His throne, all the hosts above and His crown, too, open their mouths, saying, "Praised be the glory of the Lord wherever His place be."[5]

Like Sandalphon, other angels appear prominently in Ma'aseh Merkavah mysticism. In a variation on the above legend, R. Ishmael visits Heaven to learn of the destiny of his people; he comes across not one angel, but companies and companies of ministering angels making "crowns of life." The following is a midrash foretelling deliverance and redemption for the righteous.[6] [The angel Hadarmiel] brought me in and showed me companies and companies of ministering angels sitting and weaving garments of deliverance, making crowns of life set with precious gems and pearls, pounding all kinds of spices and aromatics of the world, and sweetening wines for the righteous in the time-to-come. I asked, "Splendor of my radiance, for whom are these intended?" He replied, "For Israel."

Then I saw one crown different from all the other crowns: the sun, the moon, and the twelve constellations were set in it. I asked, "For whom is this exquisite crown intended?" He replied, "For David, king of Israel." I said, "Splendor of my radiance, show me the glory of David." He replied, wait three hours. David will come, and you will see him in his greatness.

He took hold of me, seated me in his lap, and asked me, "What do you see?" I replied, "I see seven lightnings flashing together as one." He said, "Shut your eyes, my son, lest you be frightened. These lightnings are going forth to meet David, king of Israel." At that, all the ofanim [wheel-angels], seraphim, sacred creatures, wheels of the chariot,[7] clouds of glory, storehouses of snow, storehouses of hail, stars and constellations, ministering angels and other fiery beings of the fourth heaven were stirred to say, "For the Leader. A Psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God."[8] Then I heard the sound of a great commotion coming from Eden, reverberating the words "The Lord will reign forever and ever"[9]

And behold, David, king of Israel coming out first, and all the kings of the house of David following him, each one with his crown on his head. But David's crown was brighter and more beautiful than all the others, so that its radiance reached to the end of the world. Then David went up to the heavenly Temple, where a fiery throne was prepared for him. He sat on it with all the kings of the house of David seated facing him and all the kings of Israel standing behind him, and all the kings of Israel standing behind him. Then David rose up and uttered songs and prise no ear had ever heard. After David had begun with the songs and praises, Metatron [an angel] and the entire heavenly household began to proclaim, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts."[10]

And the sacred creatures uttered praise, saying "Blessed is the glory of the Lord wherever His place be."[11] And the earth followed with, "The Lord reigns, the Lord did reign, the Lord will reign forever and ever." And all the kings of the house of David responded, "The Lord shall be King over all the earth; in that day shall the Lord be One, and His Name One"[12]

[1] Although Sandalphon is a Greek word meaning "co-brother," it does not occur in non-Jewish sources. Sandalphon also figures prominently in kabbalistic amulets. [back]
[2] Ezekiel 1:15 [back]
[3] Babylonian Talmud, Hagim 13b [back]
[4] Isaiah 6:3 [back]
[5] Ezekiel 3:12 [back]
[6] Bet ha-Midrash, ed. Jellinek (19th cent.), 5:167-168) [back]
[7] Ezekiel ch. 1 [back]
[8] Exodus 15:18 [back]
[9] Psalms 19:1 [back]
[10] Isaiah 6:3 [back]
[11] Ezekiel 3:12 [back]
[12] Zech. 14:9 [back]

From The Book of Legends (Sefer ha-Aggadah): Legends from the Talmud and Midrash.
Ed. H.N. Bialik and Y.H. Ravnitzky, transl. by William G. Braude. Schocken Books, 1992.

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