Parashat VaYera

And He Appeared

18:1 Hashem appeared to him in the plains of Mamre while he was sitting at the etrance of the tent in the heat of the day.

In the Portion of Lekh Lekha we discussed how Avraham sought advice regarding circumcision from his three friends, 'Aner, Eshkol and Mamre. While each gave him different advice, only Mamre told him to obey G-d's commandment exactly. Because of this, G-d appeared to Avraham in Mamre's groves. (Rashi; Zohar)

This happened "in the heat of the day," approximately ten o'clock in the morning. (Bachya) The Torah also states that Avraham "was sitting at the door of the tent." This might seem unnecessary; what difference does it make whether he was sitting by the door or in his living room? And why does the Torah need to tell us what time it was? The Torah could have said, "G-d appeared to Avraham." Why does it merely state, "G-d appeared to him," without mentioning his name?

The wording of this verse teaches us how great it is to fulfill G-d's mitzvot. It purifies a person, refines him and makes him a new man. Because Avraham circumcised himself in his old age, he was very precious in G-d's eyes.

Until this time, when G-d had spoken to him, Avraham fell on his face on the ground. He was unable to stand in the presence of the Divine.

Also, one condition of prophecy is that the recipient be in a segragated place, so his mind will be at ease to receive the revelation. He must be in a state of joy and tranquility, with his mind free of all other thoughts. Only then is one fit for prophecy. When a person is depressed, the Divine Presence cannot rest on him.

Avraham, however, had reached such a high level that he could receive prophecy without these conditions. He was sitting at the door of his tent; people were constantly passing by, going in and out. It was not early in the morning or late at night, whent he world is quiet and the mind tranquil; but it was in the middle of the day, when everyone is about. Still G-d appeared to him - because he fulfilled the commandment of circumcision.

The Torah therefore says, "G-d appeared to him." He was not merely Avraham, but the man who had fulfilled G-d's commandment. As a result, G-d appeared to him even though he was sitting, even though he was at the door of his tent, and even though it was the middle of the day, when the mind is not tranquil. He could behold the Divine Presence in Its radiance, and not fall on his face.

This also teaches us something about Avraham's saintliness. Although circumcision was very painful, he did it with the greatest joy. As a result of his joy, the Divine Presence revealed Itself to him. (Alshikh; Toledot Yitzchak; Tzeror HaMar)

This took place on Tishri 12 (2048) (October 8, 1714 b.c.e.). (Since Avraham was circumcised on Yom Kippur, Tishri 10) this was the third day since his circumcision. Usually, when a person is circumcised the inflammation is at its worst on this day. This was certainly true of Avraham, since he was 99 years old. Obviously he was suffering greatly from the pain and inflammation. G-d therefore revealed Himself in order to visit him. G-d was thus doing something that He requires us to do, visiting the sick. (Bava Metzia, Chapter 7)

18:2 He lifted his eyes and saw: And behold! three men where standing over him. He perceived, so he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and bowed toward the ground.

Avraham was charitable with all his heart and soul, especially when it came to taking in wayfarers. He sent his servant Eliezer out to invite them in, but he returned and said, "I saw no one." Avraham did not rely on his servant. He himself went out to see if he could find any travelers in need of hospitality. (Bava Metzia 7) He waited until after 10 o'clock in the morning without eating, hoping to share his breakfast with someone in need. (Bachya)

G-d then sent him three malakhim: Micha'el, Gavri'el and Rafa'el. They had to come anyway since they had messages for Avraham; but in order to give Avraham a chance to display hospitality, He sent them to his house in the form of human beings. (Bereyshit Rabbah. Cf. Zohar, p. 101; Bava Metzia, loc. cit.)

Since Avraham saw them as plain people, he wanted to know what kind of men they were, if they were intelligent and polite or not. When they approached the house, Avraham began to change his dressing, so that they would see that he was in pain. Immediately, they turned back, indicating that they did not wish to disturb him.

This explains the order of the verse. It says, "Behold, three men were standing over him. He saw them and ran from the door of his tent to greet them." The wording is somewhat difficult. If they were "standing over him," right next to him, why did he have to run to greet them? This, however, alludes to the fact that they had walked away from him, not wishing to bother him. Avraham had to run after them.

Another strange wording in the verse is the phrase, "He ran to greet them." If they were walking away from him, it should say, "He ran after them." However, as we shall see below in Chapter 4, Avraham's house had an entrance in each direction. When they left him, they walked around the cornder of the house. Taking a short cut through the building, Avraham was able to meet them head on. (Chen Tov. Cf. Teledot Yitzchak)

18:2 And he said, "My Master, if I find favor in Your eyes, please pass not away from Your servant."

The Hebrew word for "master" here is Ad-nai, the name usually reserved for G-d. (This is considered a divine name according to Jewish Law. Cf. Yad, Yesodey HaTorah 6:9)

As mentioned earlier, G-d had come to Avraham to pay a sick call. The Divine Presence was still in his house, so in this verse, Avraham took his leave of the Divine Presence in order to care for these guests. (Bereyshit Rabbah)

Avraham noticed that these malakhim respected one another, so he knew they were not common people. Important people have respect for everyone, even those of lesser status. Small people, on the other hand, respect no one; their pride does not let them assume that anyone is more important than they are.

As the malakhim walked, Mikha'el, the greatest of the three, was in the middle, with Gavri'el to his right and Rafa'el to his left. If three men are walking together, the most important walks in the center, with the others on either side. (Yoma, p. 37)

Avraham usually gave hospitality to any traveler, even a sinner. In many cases, through gentle persuasion, he could get them to change their ways. But now, while the Divine Presence was waiting in his tent, he did not want to leave to take care of sinners. He therefore determined that these travelers were good people before running to greet them.

18:4 "Let some water be brought and wash your feet, and recline beneath the tree."

At that time it was customary for people to worship the dust on their feet. Avraham considered this disgusting; he would not allow anyone to enter his house without washing his feet first. (Bereyshit Rabbah)

One might wonder what kind of men bow down to the dust on their feet? These people did not trust in G-d. They believed that any good that came to them was a result of their efforts, because they ran with their feet. They would say, "My strength and the might of my hand brought me this wealth" (D'varim 8:17). This was like idolatry, abandoning G-d and worshipping one's own effort. (Yafeh Toar, p. 291; Kesef Nivchar)

Avraham therefore made his guests wash their feet. He wanted them to purify themselves from this erroneous idea. One should not rely only on his own effort; but also rely on G-d.

He therefore told them, "rest under the tree." (The "tree" here can allude to G-d, who is the Tree of Life to all creation.) He was telling them to trust completely in G-d, since everything is in His hand. He gives all men their needs; effort alone accomplishes nothing. (Kli Yakar)

18:5 "I will fetch a morsel of bread that you may sustain yourselves, then go on - inasmuch as you have passed your servant's way." they said, "Do so, just as you have said."

Actually Avraham brought them much more than mere morsel of bread, as we shall see later. But the righteous say little and do much. (Bava Metzia, chapter 7)

The Hebrew word for "morsel" is Pat, which is related to the word Pit'om, meaning "suddenly." Avraham meant to say, "If I had known you were coming, I would have prepared you a great feast. But now, since you came suddenly, and you are in a hurry to be on your way, I cannot do more." (Bachya)

18:6 So Avraham hastened to the tent to Sarah and said, "Hurry! Three se'ahs of meal, fine flour! Knead and make cakes!"

When Avraham asked for bread, Sarah asked, "Should I make it out of plain flour or out of cake meal?" "Make it out of the finest cake meal," replied Avraham. (Rashi, Bava Metzia, Chapter 7)

She took 18 ounces of flour. According to some, she took 54 ounces. (Bereyshit Rabbah)

This was fine flour that have been milled very fine and sifted through the finest sieves. The flour was like the finest powder. Kli Chemdah

18:7 Then Avraham ran to the cattle, took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the youth who hurried to prepare it.

Avraham gave the calf to Yishma'el so that he, too, would have a part in the good deed. (Rashi)

This teaches that a parent must train his children to do good deeds even when they are small. Then when they come of age, they will be accustomed to doing good.

18:8 He took cream and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and placed these before them; he stood over them beneath the tree and they ate.

There is no mention in this verse that Avraham brought them any bread. Some say that he did not bring any bread to that meal. He was very careful that all the food in his house be prepared by people who were ritually pure. He treated all his food as an offering to G-d, which must be eaten in ritual purity. But when Sarah began to knead the dough, her period suddenly came [placing her in a state of ritual impurity]. Avraham therefore did not serve the bread. (Ibid.)

Since Avraham thought that his guests were bedouins, obviously not concerned about eating ritually pure food, one may wonder why Avraham refrained from serving this bread. Avraham would not serve others something that he himself would not eat. (Bachya, with the author's own additions)

The Torah relates that Avraham "stood over them." This was becasue he had served both milk and meat on the same table.

According to Jewish law, it is forbidden to place meat on a table when there is concern that it may be eaten together with dairy products. When two people are sitting at the same table, and one wishes to eat meat and the other dairy, they may not eat together if they know each other. Since they are at ease with each other, one may taste something from the other's plate. Yoreh Deah 88

Since Avraham had served both milk and meat, he stood there so they should be embarrassed to taste one another's food. If one of them wanted to eat dairy after meat, Avraham would be there to remind him not to. All this teaches how much Avraham tried to care for others. (Rabbi Shlomo Amarillo, 1645-1721, P'ney Sh'lomo, Salonika, 1717)

One may question the entire episode described by the Torah, because Malakhim do not eat physical food. Although they appeared to Avraham as human beings, why does the Torah explicitly say that they ate?

One way of explaining it is, as we stated in Parashat Lekh Lekha, at ever meal, scholars discuss the Torah, so as to nourish the soul. There is no question but that Avraham discussed the Torah with his visitors, just as he did with everyone to whom he offered hospitality, teaching them the ways of G-d. The Torah therefore says, "they ate." The malakhim listened to Avraham's Torah lessons; there is no better spiritual food than this. (Yafeh Toar, p. 281; Zohar, p. 104)

G-d sent three malakhim rather than only one. Each malakh had a different mission. Rafa'el had come to heal Avraham, who was suffering from the aftereffects of his circumcision. Michael had come to bring Sarah the good news [that she would have a child]. Gavri'el had come to destory S'dom, as we shall presently see.

Three malakhim were needed because one malakh cannot perform two missions when they are contradictory. (Ibid.; Bachya) Each one must perform his own mission; in this case, one was a messenger of justice, while the other was a messenger of mercy.

Furthermore, G-d did not want the malakhim to be jealous of each other [as they would have been if only one archangel had been sent to Avraham]. The malakhim are eager to do G-d's bidding, and He must maintain peace between them, as it is written, "He makes peace in His heights" (Iyov 25:2)

Although G-d Himself had appeared to Avraham, He neither healed him or announced that Sarah would have a child. G-d wanted to demonstrate that the reason that He visited Avraham was to honor him, not to do anything else. Furthermore, G-d wanted to teach the lesson that even an important person should visit a common man when he is sick. (Chen Tov)

18:9 They said to him, "Where is Sarah your wife?" And he said, "Behold! - in the tent!"

After the meal, the malakh Micha'el began by asking Avraham where Sarah was. The Torah relates this to teach how modest Sarah was; although she was ninety years old, she remained inside her tent and did not say a world. (Bava Metzia, loc. cit.)


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