The Three Angels

parashas Vayeira 5782

“Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.” – Psalm 51:6

“The glory of the L-rd was revealed to him in the valley of Mamre; and he, being ill from the pain of circumcision, sat at the door of the tabernacle in the fervor (or strength) of the day.”

– Targum Jonathan on Genesis 18:1, sefaria.org

“And the L-rd appeared to him. How? Three men who were angels came to him.” – Rashbam, sefaria.org

(selected passage Genesis 18:1-22)

Saadia Gaon contends, that because the three men that visited Abraham had departed, yet, Abraham remained in the presence of the L-rd, those three men, otherwise described as angels could not be counted as “identical with G-d” (commentary on Genesis 18:1, sefaria.org). Yet, the question remains that if only two angels arrived in Sodom, what occurred to the angel who goes unmentioned? Could the omission imply that the unmentioned angel remained with Abraham? If so, then, it may be said that it is as if G-d’s presence was present, as a result of the concomitant presence of this angel.

Truth is uncertain in the face of adversity; and, clarification is sought, yet, not always arrived at in a clear manner. And, so the mystery remains, in regard to the nature of the three angels, and their relationship to G-d’s presence that appeared to Abraham. Yet, it is noteworthy to consider that there is more to the narrative than we can comprehend; and, perhaps there are a few other clues to assist us in our understanding of the passage.

In further consideration of the angels being addressed as L-rd in both the singular and plural, the question may be asked, that if G-d is One, then perhaps this is a composite oneness, as denoted by the use of the word echad elsewhere in kitvei kodesh (holy scripture). For example, Adam and Eve are described as being echad. Also, the cluster of grapes brought back from Echol is “echad.” And, the men of the tribe of Judah that went out to battle are all described as echad. So, G-d’s Oneness, may be understood as a composite unity of three, if we stretch the margin of our intellect.

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