Vayeira – The Visitor and the visitors

(Bereishit 18:1-23)
The Visitor and the visitors
Shifting restlessly
at the entrance of the tent
Abraham looked out:
the day was bright
and very still.
Eyes squinting hopefully
at the shimmering horizon,
he searched in the distance
for the stirring
that might herald guests.
The Lord appeared to him
in the groves of Mamre
as he sat at the entrance of his tent
in the heat of the day.
Abraham’s heart overflowed
with ineffable joy, as
He felt God’s imminent presence.
And he lifted up his eyes and looked
and lo, three men stood nearby.
And now what?
Shall he ask the Holy One
to tarry? Or
shall he tell these weary travelers
that he cannot tend them now?
As soon as he saw them, he ran
from the entrance of the tent
to greet them…
Abraham sheltered them
in the shade of a tree,
brought water
to bathe their dusty feet,
lovingly prepared a feast
and served them.
The shadows grew longer,
the light began to wane.
The men went on their way to Sodom
while Abraham remained
standing before the Lord.
God had waited
and He was smiling.


R Hama ben Hanina (B. Metziya 86b) says that when God appeared to Abraham in the groves of Mamre, it was the third day after Abraham’s circumcision and he was feeling unwell, so God came to enquire after his welfare. Abraham was watching out for wayfarers as he delighted in offering hospitality. Rashi says that God had first unsheathed the sun to make the day hotter so that travelers would not pass by and weary Abraham, but when He saw that Abraham was grieved that no-one passed by, He sent three angels in the form of men.
As soon as Abraham saw the visitors, he had a dilemma: whether to attend to God (Who had arrived first) or to receive his visitors. Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: Receiving guests is greater than greeting the Divine Presence (Shabbat 127a). In Bereishit 18:3, Abraham says, “Adonai, im na matsati chen be’enecha, al na ta’avor me’al avdecha,” and the word “Adonai” is ambiguous: Ibn Ezra and Rashi translate the sentence as “My masters, if it please you, do not go on past your servant,” meaning that Abraham is addressing his mortal guests. The Rambam, however, (in keeping with the grammatical structure of the rest of the sentence which is addressed to a single guest) renders it, “My Lord, if it please You, do not go on past Your servant,” asking God to wait (while Abraham attends to his visitors).
Rabbi Aaron of Karlin taught that ignoring the needs of others because of too great a focus on God is not a source of Divine pleasure, whereas turning away from Him to tend to people is God’s will .

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