Traditional meforshim of Yechezkel 1 (for example, the Malbim) explain that the three often-mentioned classes of angels (ofanim, chayos and seraphim) correspond to the notions of the 3 lower worlds (Asiyah, Yetzirah and Beriyah).

For example, the chayos are described in Yechezkel 1 as bearers of the Throne of Glory, which is very commonly identified (e.g. in Nefesh haChayim and Tikkunei Zohar) with the world of beriyah. This is as if the Throne is "on top of the" chayos, suggesting they are right below the Throne, in the world of yetzirah.

Another similar source is from birchos Shema in shacharis, where in the kedusha we say that the ofanim and chayos hakodesh have to lift themselves up towards seraphim -- which makes sense with our hierarchy of the worlds, since ofanim and chayos are, so to speak, "below" the serafim in this hierarchy.

Interestingly, the Rambam in Yesodei haTorah 2:7 lists a hierarchy of 10 classes of angels, which he implies are in descending order, in which the chayos are on the top and serafim are in the middle.

I have looked in the standard Rambam edition and in some other meforshim but could not find the source for Rambam's hierarchy and how to tie it out with the standard hierarchy we see in Yechezkel 1.

Thank you very much.

  • Very similar judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/111231/…
    – Joel K
    Jul 1, 2021 at 15:13
  • @JoelK thank you for the link -- but it does not deal with the hierarchy, The answers there bring sources for where the names of the angels come from, but no mention is made of the hierarchy between the classes.
    – gt6989b
    Jul 1, 2021 at 15:21

2 Answers 2


Placing the Chayot at the top of the hierarchy is brought in Tanna Devei Eliyahu Rabbah 31:2:

"כיצד ישב הקב"ה וברא את עולמו חמש שיטות בדבר זה שטה ראשונה ברא הקב"ה שני אלפים רבבות כרובים ושני אלפים רבבות אופנים וכל שרפים ואראלים וכן שאר מלאכי השרת אין מספר ולמעלה מהן חיות הקודש ולמעלה מהן רקיע כעין הקרח הנורא ולמעלה ממנו כסה"כ ולמעלה ממנו יושב הקב"ה בשמי השמים העליונים..."

That there are ten groups of angels is brought in Tikkunei Hazohar 3:2:10:

"...וְנָהִיר בְּעִִשֶׂר כִּתּוֹת דְּמַלְאָכַיָּא..."

As for the rest of the hierarchy, according to the Ramak in Derishot B'Inyanei Hamal'achim, the seventh chakirah, the Rambam was the one who decided that this was the order of the hierarchy, and the names he got from various verses:

"במנין וסדר עשר כתות המלאכים ושמותם. לזה נאמר שהרמב"ם בתחלת ספרו כתב שהם עשר כתות וסדרם לדעתו כך, על כולם חיות והם היותר קרובים לבורא ואח"כ אופנים ושתים למדם מן נבואת יחזקאל כנודע. ואח"כ אראלים ולמדו מן פסוק הן אראלם צעקו חוצה. ואח"כ חשמלים ולמדו מנבואת יחזקאל כעין החשמל. ואח"כ שרפים ולמדו מנבואת ישעיה שרפים עומדים ממעל לו. ואח"כ מלאכים ולמדו מפ' ברכו ה' מלאכיו. ואח"כ האלהים ולמדו מפ' אשר הלכו אלהים לפדות לו לעם בשמואל. ואלהים בלשון רבים על המלאכים השלוחים מאת האל לעשות הנסים. ואח"כ בני האלהים שהם בנים משתלשלים מהקודמים ולמדו מפ' ויראו בני האלהים את בנות האדם או מפ' ויבואו בני האלהים להתיצב על ה'. ואח"כ כרובים ולמדו מנבואת יחזקאל ופני כרוב מהשמאל, וכן אומר כרוב ממשח הסוכך, וכן אומרו וירכב על כרוב ויעף, ואח"כ אשים ולמדו מפסוק את קרבני לחמי לאשי ע"כ כלל כונתו בפי' דבריו בקצת."

Translation: "About the number and order of the ten groups of angels and their names. About this it said that the Rambam wrote in the beginning of his book that they make up ten groups and organized them, according to his view, so: Above all of them the Chayot, and they are the closest to the Creator, and afterwards the Ofanim and both of them he learned from the prophecy in Yechezkel, as was made known. And afterwards the Ar'elim and he learned this from the verses "Hark! The Arielites cry aloud". And afterwards the Chashmalim, and he learned this from Yechezkel's prophecy "a gleam as of Chashmal". And afterwards Serafim and he learned this from Yeshayahu's prophecy "Seraphs stood in attendance on Him". And afterwards Mal'achim, and he learned this from "Bless the LORD, O His Mal'achim". And afterwards the Elo-him, and he learned this from "whom Elo-him went and redeemed as His people" in Shmuel. And Elo-him in plural form refers to the Mal'achim sent from God to work the miracles. And afterwards Bnei Ha'Elo-him, who are sons that branch out from the previous ones, and he learned this from "the Bnei Ha'Elo-him saw how beautiful the daughters of men were" or from "the Bnei Ha'Elo-him presented themselves before the LORD". And afterwards the Keruvim, and he learned this from Yechezkel's prophecy "the face of the Keruv from the left" and it also says "an anointed Keruv" and it also says "He mounted a Keruv and flew" (and here too). And afterwards the Ishim, and he learned this from the verses "the offerings of food due to my Ishim", and for this he included his meaning partially in what he wrote.

And then the Ramak writes that he disagrees with the Rambam's order of the hierarchy and explains why.

We see, therefore, that the Rambam simply interpreted Yechezkel 1 differently from most commentators, and as such listed the hierarchy differently.

  • 1
    +1 this is awesome thank you so much
    – gt6989b
    Jul 6, 2021 at 12:47
  • @gt6989b you're welcome.
    – Harel13
    Jul 6, 2021 at 12:53
  • An unbelievable derush on the passuk from korban tamid - was saying this all the time and never took notice -- es korbani lachmi leIshai is "for the ishim"
    – gt6989b
    Jul 6, 2021 at 12:55
  • @gt6989b yes, it's certainly an interesting derush, though on p'shat level may sound strange - as though we're sacrificing to angels and not Hashem (putting aside for the moment what it means to sacrifice to Hashem and what's the point).
    – Harel13
    Jul 6, 2021 at 12:59
  • 1
    I don't think this is what he means. We are sacrificing for the angel to use, not to the angel though.
    – gt6989b
    Jul 6, 2021 at 13:08

Chullin 91B/92A with mefarshim. Simple reading explicitly says that Ofanim>Serafim. See Tosafos who says Chayos are superior to Serafim as well.

  • the premise of the question was he did not randomly decide -- i was just asking what helped him :) thanks for the source, +1
    – gt6989b
    Oct 15, 2021 at 20:48
  • 1
    I edited that part out- was responding to someone else. I thought you asked a great question! In davening, we say the ofanim and chayos elevate themselves opposite the serafim - that’s the hardest of all for the Rambam!
    – ZG1
    Oct 16, 2021 at 23:23

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