Parashat Vayeira: 3 Angels Among Us, Living in Our Tents

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24 Oct 2007

Parashat Vayeira 5768

Part One: 3 Angels, then and now

When reflecting upon Jewish life today, it is almost impossible to comprehend what our situation was at the end of the Second World War, just 60 years ago.

A nation which numbered 17 million in 1939 found itself with 11 million in 1945. One third of our nation was destroyed. When in shul this shabbat, look around and imagine what the minyan would look like if one third of all the people present were suddenly gone. Consider your shabbat table; how would it look if every third person would not be present.

The feeling not only among the remnant, who suffered directly, but by all Jews was one of absolute defeat. The murders; the dehumanization. We look to the heavens and meekly asked “Where was HaShem?” And receive a thundering reply, “Where were people?”

There were 600,000 Jews languishing in the largest Jewish cemetery in the world, called Europe, with nowhere to go.

The stories of thousand of Jews who were murdered by the locals when returning to regain their homes and properties reverberated among the survivors, so this option was not available. The British closed the doors on immigration to Eretz Yisrael; so this option was closed. The United States hesitatingly, unwillingly agreed to let in a small number of “refugees.”

The Jewish nation was sick. We lost all hope. It was just a question of time before we would no longer exist. Who thought of marriage, of children, of sanity! In addition, hundreds of thousands of Jews in Arab lands were suffering under the heavy hand of Islam. We were sick, devoid of a future, defenseless, vulnerable on the verge of national lunacy.

Then, three years after the war’s end – a “blink of an eye” in terms of history – HaShem created out of nothingness, Medinat Yisrael.

The fragile, infant state opened its doors to all the sick in body and spirit. In time they were nursed to health. Hope was returned to their hearts. People who lost spouses and children and thought they could never love again, established families and brought children into the world.

The long lost smiles were returned to faces which saw the angel of death.

The Medina provided its new citizens not only with protection, but also with the knowledge that we can avenge some of the evil done to us, as in the case of Eichmann who was tried before Jewish judges and hung by the hand of a man who put on tefillin that morning (I know the man).

  1. Recovery and hope.
  2. Children and future.
  3. Protection and punishment of our enemies.

These are what our Medinat Yisrael brought to the destitute and nearly destroyed Jewish nation.

In this week’s parsha, Avraham Avinu strains his pained, injured body to receive and feed three guests.

In time, Avraham realizes that they were not the usual wayfarers he is accustomed to host – they were angels sent by HaShem, each with a specific task to accomplish, for no angel can do more than one task.

  1. One was sent for the purpose of alleviating pain and suffering. To cure Avraham’s agonizing sick body and also save Lot from the suffering soon to be endured by the citizens of Sedom.
  2. Another was sent to announce the pending birth of the long awaited son -Yitzchak.
  3. The third angel had the task of eradicating the evil doers of the five cities.

An angel to bring recovery and hope.

An angel to announce the birth of a Jewish child and guarantee national survival.

An angel to avenge the evil doers of the world and provide a safe haven for the Jewish nation. .

These were the three tasks put before the three angels of Avraham – these are the very same three tasks performed by Medinat Yisrael.

  1. Many of the survivors pledged never to put themselves again in the fragile position of loving and then losing. “We can never love again,” they cried! And then the Medina gradually brought forth from their broken hearts the capacity to love themselves and their fellow man.
  2. We were the suffering, desperate Avraham and Sarah who were close to despair of ever meriting the continuation of Am Yisrael. And the Medina provided those hopeless Jews to recover their human desire for off-spring and continuation.
  3. As for punishing those who would perpetrate more evils on the Jewish nation, speak to our sons-soldiers who put their lives on the line 24/7 who are proud to serve in the first Jewish defense force in 2000 years.

A word to my dear brothers and sisters in chutz la’aretz.

To the bnei and bnot Torah who dot the land from “sea to shining sea.”

From Lakewood to L.A.

From “Jew” York to Beverly Hills.

To the Roshei Yeshivot and pulpit rabbis.

To the principals of day schools and community leaders.

How much would you give to have been present in the tent of Avraham together with Hashem’s holy angels. To take part in the recovery from pain, in the joy of announcing the continuation of Am Yisrael, and in the avenging of evil in the world?

As it looks from here – not very much!

Part Two: The tents of Avraham, the tents of David

In parashat Vayeira, midat hadin (the quality of justice) appears before the Almighty to demand retribution for the evils committed by the people of Sodom, Amora, and their three sister cities. The Almighty, whose essence is Truth and Justice, agrees that the time has come to exact punishment from the inhabitants. Before implementing the ultimate punishment, HaShem “requires” that Avraham Avinu be told of the impending doom.

“And God said, Shall I withhold from Avraham that which I am about to do?” (Bereishit 18:17-19)

We are left to question, why does God want to confer with mortal man?

The pasuk continues with God’s rationale for consulting Avraham, and that too turns out to be problematic.

The text continues:

“For Avraham, will be a great and powerful nation, and all the nations will be blessed by him. For I know that he will command his descendants after him to keep the way of God, to perform acts of charity and justice, in order that God shall bring upon Avraham that which was said.”

There are undeniable problems in these verses.

  1. What is the relevance of “charity and justice”, traits by which Avraham’s children will be distinguished, in the episode of Sodom and Gemorah?
  2. What does it mean “in order that God shall bring upon Avraham that which was said?”

I suggest the following:

In the world order created by God, there is no way to save anyone in these cities of evil for each person is contaminated beyond rectification. However, in this same world order there is also a clause stating that if a tzaddik prays for a sinner, HaShem may bypass the quality of justice in favor of the quality of mercy.

In the larger picture planned for our world, God needs to save Avraham’s nephew Lot,. But to do so requires that Avraham pray for Lot, because he is not much better than his fellow citizens of Sodom. True to plan, when Avraham hears that HaShem is about to destroy Avraham’s own family along with the five cities, he rushes to pray.

Avraham is well aware of the fact that there are not 50 righteous people in all the cities combined, but he begins with this number which could possibly contain a minyan of tzadikim (ten) in each of the five cities.

Avraham, the realist, eventually reduces the total number to ten. He stops with that number because he is certain that Lot and his family are, relative to the rest, super tzaddikim, and they total ten: Lot and his wife, their two daughters who were married to local Sodomites, and two more daughters who are engaged to marry Sodomites and their betrothed- ten in all.

The midrash informs us, that when the angel commands them all to abandon the city in order to survive HaShem’s wrath, Lot’s two daughters and two sons-in-law, as well as the future two sons-in-law refuse to go. Thus Lot, his wife and the two betrothed daughters flee the city.

Mrs. Lot is an obstacle to God’s plan and must be removed from the picture. The angel warns them not to look back. Mrs. Lot cannot resist. She turns to look, and is transformed into a pillar of salt (chemically known as NaCl – Not Able to Control Looking).

Lot and his two daughters escape to the mountains to wait out what they think is the destruction of the world. What occurs on the mountain was permitted in the eyes of Lot’s daughters, since there is no prohibition against incest when there are no other people alive (Kayin and Hevel married their sisters).

The older daughter gives birth to the progenitor of the Moabite nation, the younger to the progenitor of the Ammonite nation. Eventually, from the Moabites there will stem a great historical personage – Ruth, the great -grandmother of King David, and from the Ammonite Na’ama, the mother of Rechavam, son of King Solomon.

I suggest that it is King David who is at the center of this story, as follows:

HaShem informs Avraham of the imminent destruction of Sodom in order that he pray for the salvation of his family, which known only to God, will eventually bring forth King David.

One might ask, isn’t this farfetched? What does King David have to do with all of this?

Firstly, the words “charity and justice”, which appear in the above verses, are repeated again in the Tanach with regard to only one man – King David (Shmuel II, 8:15):

And David ruled over all Israel; and David performed charity and justice to his entire people.

It is interesting to note that in the amidah-shemoneh esray, after the beracha “magen Avraham”, the only personality mentioned is King David “et tze’mach David.”

Between the names of Avraham and David is the beracha, “Melech ohev tzedakah u’mishpat.”

Secondly, the phrase “in order that God shall bring upon Avraham that which was said”, seems to have no meaning in this context. But it indeed has great meaning, for in all of the recorded dialogues between God and Avraham, Avraham is promised only one thing – Eretz Yisrael – not Torah, not Shulchan Aruch – only Eretz Yisrael.

The man who eventually liberates all of the biblical boundaries of Eretz Yisrael was David HaMelech.

The entire story of Sodom and Lot is to bring about the improbable birth of David.

David and Avraham are two extremes in Jewish history, and they are linked together as follows.

Four times in sefer Bereishit the word ‘ohel’ (tent) is mentioned with regard to Avraham and Sarah.

It was not for lack of money that they lived in tents at a time when the elite already lived in homes, as did Avraham himself when living in Ur Kasdim. So why did they forego the comforts of a house in favor of a tent?

There was one other person in our history who lived for the majority of his life in tents – David.

The Midrash relates that David’s’ father, Yishai, sent away his pregnant wife (whose name was Nee’tzevet bat Adel). She went into the fields to have her baby, whom she named David and they lived for many years in tents, like our forefather Avraham.

David, as related in the Midrash, is ostracized by his family, (for reasons which are not the concern of this parasha), until he is eventually anointed as the next king by Shmuel HaNavi, after which he probably returned to his father’s house – but that took 17 years.

David is eventually the target of King Shaul’s anger. He must flee and returns to a nomadic existence, to the tent. When David’s son Avshalom rebels against him, forcing him once again to flee, King David returns to the ohel- the tent.

Why is David forced to live in tents and why does Avraham choose to do so?

The Tanach in Shmuel II chapter 7 says:

When the King (David) dwelt in his house and God freed him from foreign enemies: The king said to Natan the Prophet, “Look, I am dwelling in a house of cedar wood, while the Holy Ark of God dwells in a place of curtains (tent).

Then God appears to Natan, and acknowledges that since the time when He freed the Jewish people from Egypt the Holy Spirit has dwelt in a tent, and now God consents to David’s plan to erect the Bet Hamikdash.

David leaves the tent. The time has come for Am Yisrael to perform the mitzvah of appointing a king – one of the three mitzvot incumbent on the nation after liberating Eretz Yisrael: crowning a king, eradicating Amalek and building the Beit Hamikdash.

The long tradition of living in a temporary dwelling so long as the Shechina does not attain permanence in this world, began with Avraham, and now comes to an end with David. King David, as recorded in the Gemara, who prepares the building material and builds the floor of the Mikdash, and composes the psalm ‘Mizmor shir chanukat habayit l’David.

Parashat Vayeira begins with Avraham sitting in his tent. He then becomes part of God’s plan for bringing David into the world. It is David who forever folds the temporary ‘tents’ of Am Yisrael by establishing a permanency for the Shechina in this world.

Today, after leaving the ‘tents’ of the galut for the permanence of our home in Eretz Yisrael, where we all have merited living in a material fashion not known here since the time of Shlomo HaMelech, we must give all our thoughts on how to eradicate the abomination that exists on the Temple Mount.

The Talmud Yerushalmi, at the end of the first chapter of the tractate Berachot, informs us of three causes for the phenomenon of earthquakes.

  1. Neglecting to separate the required tithes (terumah and maaser; today these obligation are rabbinic, not from the Torah)
  2. Homosexuality
  3. HaShem sees the theaters and sport stadiums of the world so beautifully built and filled with spectators, while His Beit HaMikdash is in a state of destruction.

These things are unnatural behaviors for us Jews, so the earth responds in an unnatural fashion.

The natural behavior of a Jew is to worship God in the Beit Hamikdash. Therefore, as we dwell in our comfortable homes, let us consider that at this moment the Shechina does not merit even a ‘tent’ but is surrounded by the terrorists of Al-Aksa and the Gold Dome murderers

What would King David do today?

When Mashiach arrives (speedily in our days) we will not only see what he does, but we, in Eretz Yisrael, will merit to be active participants in the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash.

Shabbat Shalom, Nachman Kahana

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.