Torah: (Bereishit) Genesis 18:1 – 22:24; Haftarah: 2 Kings 4:1-37
Are You Willing to Believe?
In this Parashah Avraham receives one of the most unusual visitors who promises a son to his wife Sarah, and with whom Avraham intercedes for saving Sodom and Gomorrah. Both events could be done only by "someone" who can control the future and the forces of creation, and Avraham knew that. A careful reading of the text will reveal who that someone was.
This Parashah also talks about the birth of Isaac, the promised son, and the ultimate test for Avraham, the binding (Akeidah) of Isaac.
In Genesis 18:1 we read: “And the LORD (YHVH) appeared - va’yeira - to him (Avraham) in the plains of Mamre; and he sat in the door of the tent in the heat of the day. And he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, three men stood by him; and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the door of the tent, and bowed himself to the ground. And said, 'My Lord (Adonai), if now I have found favor in your sight, I beg you, do not pass away from your servant. Please, let a little water be fetched and wash your feet and rest under the tree. And I will fetch a morsel of bread and you comfort your hearts; after that you may pass on; since you have come to your servant.' And they said, 'So do, as you have said.' And Avraham hurried to the tent to Sarah, and said, 'Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes.' And Avraham ran to the herd, and fetched a calf tender and good, and gave it to a young man; and he hurried to prepare it. And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they ate.”
From this text, it is clear that the LORD appeared to Avraham in a form of a man in front of whom Avraham bowed down and whom he called Adonai. Was Avraham confused as to the identity of this man? Not at all, because this is not the first appearance of the LORD to Avraham. Previous chapters tell us that Avraham came to know who the LORD was. Chapter 12 verse 7 simply says that YHVH - the LORD - appeared to him, even though it is not stated in what form. In chapter 17 verse 1, again it is not stated in what form YHVH appeared, but Avraham fell on his face and talked with Him. And, as to leave no doubt, the Scripture continues the above passage by stating that the other two men are actually malachim, angels, and that the one who is talking with Avraham is the LORD.
So, how can it be, the LORD, the God of the universe, appearing to a man as a man? In chapter 14 we have seen the appearance of Melchitzedek, which according to King David and Rav Shaul is a prototype of Messiah, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, and in chapter 15 verse 1, we see another appearance, the appearance of the Word of the LORD: "After these things the Word of the LORD came to Avram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Avram; I am your shield, and your reward will be great." Paralleling this, Yochanan writes in his gospel in chapter 1 verse 1: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” So, the Scripture tells us that God can manifest Himself as a man and that manifestation was the incarnation of His Word. Why do we need to look for other explanation when the plain meaning of the Scripture identifies a Person who, even though can manifest Himself apart from God, is God? He is called by the same name, YHVH, not as a second God but as the same one and only God. The Unity of God is a mystery that our limited understanding of God may not be able to grasp, but that is our limitation not God’s. If we believe in God we have to believe in His Scripture, and the Scripture clearly says that the LORD appeared to Avraham as a man. God chose to guide and talk with His creation by manifesting Himself as a man so we can relate our physical and spiritual needs to someone and something that our mind can grasp and understand.
The Scripture is clear if we read it in its context. This Parashah contains another text that is misinterpreted: "And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they ate.” YHVH ate milk and meat together. But the rabbis say that you cannot do that citing Exodus 23:19 and 34:26, “You are not to boil a young goat in the milk of its mother,” but both Exodus passages are not about eating but about how to bring a sacrifice to the LORD. Please read both texts in entirety. There is another passage which, when understood properly, can explain the meaning of this expression, Deuteronomy 14:21: ”You shall not eat anything which dies [of itself]. You may give it to the alien who is in your town, so that he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner, for you are a holy people to the LORD your God. You shall not boil a young goat in its mother's milk.” This passage is about eating yes, but in its context this last statement is the concluding thought following the list of things the Israelis should and should not eat. Therefore, this particular statement is reinforcing the previous one which states, “you are a holy people,” thus, “you shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk” is not an instruction for eating as an afterthought out of place, but an instruction for holiness. It is an expression which means “do not add insult to the injury” in your behavior towards an alien or a foreigner, because they suffered already enough, do not add to their troubles by not giving them the food that they can eat, simple as that. The Scripture says that Avraham placed before the LORD milk and the calf and He ate. That is the plain meaning of the text and it does not violate any other text in the Scripture.
The language of the text is very clear. The LORD is speaking directly to Avraham, not through an intermediary. Not only He tells him about the distant future, that Sarah will have a son, but also about what He is going to do the very next morning, to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their exceedingly grave sin. No other being has the knowledge of or the authority over the future events.
The Scripture says that Avraham was a man whose main characteristic was to keep the way of the LORD, which was doing tzedakah – charity/righteousness – and justice. Avraham knew God’s mercy and he knew that the opportunity for repentance is always open for sinners; therefore, his immediate reaction when he heard that God wanted to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah was to intercede for the sinful cities. “The effective prayer of a righteous person can accomplish much” says Ya’akov 5:16. In his prayer Avraham argued that the attribute of Justice must be tempered by Mercy, so that if there was a nucleus of good people found that could influence the others, the entire city should be spared. In response, God said that He would indeed exercise mercy, but there was no one except for Lot who deserved to be saved. The test of righteousness is that people must display their righteousness also in public, in the midst of the city as it were, and Sodom and Gomorrah had none.
"Because of the five" — suspecting that his first request would be unavailing because the fifty righteous men would not be found, and encouraged by God's receptiveness, Avraham asked for permission to petition further. If forty would be found, then thirty, then twenty and then finally ten — from this started the tradition of having a minimum of ten men when gathered for prayer, a minyan.
Why Avraham pleaded so persistently for people who were so notorious for their wickedness? Ordinarily people preach kindness, but they become outraged and hate those who dispute their values. One infamous example is the “reformer” Martin Luther, who wanted to convert the Jews to Catholicism but when they refused, he turned against them with vengeance (please check the internet for his comments against the Jews). On the other hand, the ones who only care for righteousness and justice feel no animosity towards evildoers, only for them to change for the better.
Many years later the LORD took again the form of a man in Messiah Yeshua and came down to earth to fulfill the prophecy given to Isaiah: “A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice.” God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah to allow the new nation that He was building though Avraham to take roots without being infected by sin, but sin flourished nevertheless. Yeshua came down to have the final victory over sin. He took all our sins, past, present and future, upon Himself in order to bring forth justice and give us a chance to repent, if only we are willing.
Yeshua also lamented over a city: “Yerushalayim, Yerushalayim, the ones that kill the Neviim and stone those having been sent to you! How often have I wanted to gather your children, as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, but you were not willing!” He was willing though. He gave his life on a Roman execution-stake as a sacrifice fulfilling God’s requirement for atonement for sin as written in the Torah. Yeshua said that all Torah is about Him: “You search the Scriptures because you think in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.”
Are you willing? Do not harden your heart, follow Avraham’s example, bow down in front of Him and be willing to believe that He gave His life as a ransom for yours in order for you to have your sins forgiven by a Holy God. God is merciful and He lovingly is ready to give you His Shalom, if only you are willing to receive it.
Shabbat joy, peace, and blessings! Shabbat Shalom!