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.

Abraham’s Perception

“Abraham lifted his eyes, and perceived.”

– Genesis 18:2

Abraham was in communion with G-d, while sitting at the entrance of his tent. If he could be pictured there, in silent contemplation, perhaps, with his eyes closed, he might appear as if he was meditating. At some point, he lifted his eyes, being stirred out of his deep personal experience of being in G-d’s presence; and, he perceived three men standing nearby him. What did he perceive? He may have perceived that they were angels; he may have also immediately realised that they had been assigned to carry out a mission from Above. He hurriedly tended to their needs.

Then, he and his wife Sarah who had been barren for thirty nine years were told that they would have a son one year from the time of their appearance. After the message was delivered, Sarah laughed at such an extraordinary proclamation. She was mildly reproached for laughing, as if she doubted what she heard. Yet, “Is anything to hard for the L-RD?” (Genesis 18:13-15).

Next, two of the angels walked towards Sodom and Gomorrah, while G-d explained to Abraham what was about to take place. The cries of these two cities had reached the heavens; judgment was about to occur from the heavenly realm (see Genesis 18:20-21). Yet, Abraham tried to persuade G-d to spare the cities for the sake of any righteous people, who may have also been living there. Before an indiscriminate pouring down of fire and brimstone would overturn the cities, Abraham asked, “Would you destroy the righteous with the wicked?” Shall not the judge of the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). Abraham takes G-d to task, entering into a dialogue with him, on behalf of the righteous. If there were only ten righteous people in the cities, G-d agreed that he would spare those cities.

Yet, apparently, there were not even ten righteous persons living amongst the wicked occupants of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot, and his immediate family were evacuated by the angels in an urgent manner. His wife, hesitated, longing for her married daughters who had stayed by their disbelieving husbands. Perhaps, she had also turned back, because she did not want to leave behind her a life of security, comfort, and contentment. She turned into a pillar of salt; perhaps, because of exposure to the fire and brimstone. A stark reminder of the consequences of immobility, in the face of urgent action required during a catastrophic event.

“And it came to pass, when G-d destroyed the cities of the plain, that G-d recalled Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in which Lot lived.” – Genesis 19:29

Individuation

“Now the L-RD said unto Abram: ‘Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto the land that I will show thee.”

– Genesis 12:1, JPS 1917 Tanach

Abraham was called out from his environmental mileu, in order to start a new life, free from the shackles of the past that had chained him to a world of idolatry. In modern psychological terms, he broke free of the conditioning that kept him from pursuing his own identity. Specifically, the term, “individuation” seems apropos in more ways than one.

First of all, Abraham is described as an “ivri,” meaning that he was from ” the other side” of the Euphrates River. The English transliteration would be “Hebrew.” The word also connotes that he was on one side of the moral sphere, while those from Ur Chasdim, whom he left behind were on another.

Today, while many remain entrenched in their familiar environs, others decide to move on to another place, both geographically, as well as spiritually. Part of individuation includes “separating out” what is right for ourselves as individials, from what can no longer be maintained within the framework of our personal worldview.

Additionally, Abraham was called for a specific mission in life: “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing” (Genesis 12:2). Chassidus, a mystical component of Judaism, teaches that every individual has a mission in life. Abraham was given a good idea of his mission in life. However, for those of us living in this modern world, we are challenged, perplexed and sometimes flummoxed at the thought of finding our mission in life.

Our journey to the destination that G-d may ultimately have in mind for us, is often beset by many trials and errors, as well as false starts and wrong paths. Yet, at some point we may be able to reflect upon our past, and be able to see how everything actually led to exactly where we stand today. As the saying goes, “hindsight is golden.”

parashas afterthought: Shelach 5780

B”H shiur for motzei Shabbos parashas Shelach 5780 “Of the first of your dough ye shall give unto the L-RD a portion for a gift throughout your generations” (Numbers 15:21, JPS 1917 Tanach). The commandment, regarding the requirement to first take from the dough being used to make bread for personal consumption, and give a […]

parashas afterthought: Shelach 5780 — The Tree of Life