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Parshas Vayeira – How to Connect with G-d

By: Rav Dov Lipman


Parshas Vayeira – How to Connect with G-d 


The opening verse of this week’s Parsha is very unclear.  The Torah states:


"And appeared to him G-d in Elonei Mamrei and he was sitting at the doorway
of his tent in the heat of the day."


Three questions jump out immediately upon reading this verse.  First of all,
while we know this means that G-d appeared to Avraham, why doesn’t the Torah
actually mention Avraham by name?  Second, why doesn’t it say "And G-d
appeared to him…"
instead of the awkward phraseology placing "him" first?  
Finally, what was the purpose of G-d’s revelation to Avraham at this location? 
The very next verse states: "And he looked and behold there were three
men standing upon him…"
  A new story begins.  What, then, was the purpose
of G-d’s appearing to Avraham in the first verse if He neither did nor said
anything?


The Rambam in the Moreh Nevuchim says that this is an example of "Klal u’prat"
meaning that the Torah first tells us what happened in general terms - that
G-d appeared to Avraham.  Then, the Torah explains how G-d appeared to Avraham
– in the form of a dream in which Avraham saw the three angels, with the remainder
of the story described in the subsequent verses.  When it says in the second
verse that Avraham "lifted up his eyes and saw," that was the beginning
of his vision, his dream.  Through this vision, Avraham was informed about
the birth of Yitzchak and the destruction of Sedom.  So, according to the Rambam,
the Torah does, in fact, reveal why G-d appeared to Avraham and what was accomplished
by this visit.  (This approach does not deal with the first two questions we
asked.)


The Ramban rejects the Rambam’s explanation outright.  He asks two primary
questions.  First, if the "visit" of the angels in the dream is the detail
of the "appearance" described in the first verse, how can the verse say that "G-d appeared
to Avraham"
since, in actuality, it was angels, not G-d,
who appeared to Avraham?  Second, if the appearance of G-d described in the
first verse was this vision, and the purpose of the dream was to inform Avraham
of the birth of Yitzchak and the destruction of Sedom, why did the dream contain
so many seemingly extraneous aspects such as a feast which Avraham and Sarah
prepared for the visitors?  That had no relevance to the purpose of the vision
and, therefore, should not have been included.    


It is interesting to note that both the Ritva and the Abarbanel defend the
Rambam with regard to this second question of the Ramban.  The Ritva explains
that most prophecies were conveyed through parables and all parables contain
some irrelevant aspects.  The Abarbanel says that the feast and the hospitality
shown by Avraham and Sarah is very relevant to the prophecies regarding the
birth of Yitzchak and the destruction of Sedom.  Avraham and Sarah merited
children because of their great kindness which was manifested by how they treated
their guests.  Furthermore, Avraham’s willingness to reach out to pagans and
his relationship with "outsiders" demonstrates why G-d felt the need to inform
him about the destruction of Sedom.    


Whether we accept these answers or not, the Ramban’s first question seems
to remain in place.  The Ramban seems to agree with Rashi’s approach to understanding
the verse in our Parsha. Rashi quotes the teaching of our Sages that G-d came
to perform the mitzvah of bikkur cholim, visiting the sick.  Avraham was recovering
from his circumcision and G-d came to pay a visit. 


(As a total aside, Rav Moshe Feinstein makes an amazing point from this Rashi
and the teaching of our Sages.  Why would G-d come to visit the sick?  If His
intent is to make the invalid feel better, G-d can do so without actually visiting. 
We learn from G-d’s arrival  to visit the sick that this mitzvah is not for
the reasons we might have assumed.  It is not to cheer the person up, it is
not to make conversation (since G-d said nothing to Avraham in this instance),
it is not to pray for or with the person, or, for that matter, any other reason. 
It is a "gzeiras hakasuv" - a decree from Heaven – that one should
visit a sick person just as G-d did.  One should not attempt to justify not
visiting someone who is sick because he assumes that nothing will be accomplished
by this gesture.  Regardless of what we think, it is an obligation we have
to our fellow man and we must perform the mitzvah.)    


The Sifsei Chachamim explains that Rashi’s basis for his understanding is
the fact that Avraham is not identified in this verse.  The word, "ailav""to
him"
– without identifying the "him" comes to show that there is a direct
connection between the subject of this story and the previous one. We had been
discussing Avraham and his circumcision and then G-d appeared to "him" – connecting
the two stories to one another.  The only connection there could be, he says,
is that  G-d came to visit him because he was sick.  (The Sifsei Chachamim
also points to the fact that the Torah provides no alternate reason for the
visit as the basis for Rashi’s using this understanding of the Sages.)


Rabbeinu Bachya also follows the approach of Rashi and the Sifsei Chachamim. 
He adds that the visit to Avraham came in the merit of the circumcision he
gave himself at the end of the previous Parsha.  Thus, Rashi answers two of
our questions and other commentaries seem to follow his way of thinking.  The
difficulty with this approach is that there is not even a
hint in the text of the Torah, itself, that "bikur cholim" is why
G-d appeared to Avraham.  We are also still left wondering why the phraseology
of the verse is out of order. 


The Netziv takes issue with the "visiting the sick" approach for a different
reason all together.  He points to the Torah’s emphasis on the fact that this
took place "in the heat of the day."  What significance does this have to the
story if G-d was coming to visit the sick?  The Netziv understands the verse
based on the Gemara in Yoma (83a) which teaches that Avraham prayed from noon
and on.  What is the source for this Gemara?  The Netziv suggests that it is
our verse which describes Avraham being outside in the heat of the day.  At
noon, Avraham began his preparations for prayer.  G-d appeared to him because
this was Avraham’s time of prayer.  This approach explains the purpose of G-d’s
visit but does not deal with our other two questions.     


The Ohr Hachayim is troubled by our question regarding the purpose of G-d’s
appearing to Avraham and the phraseology of the verse.  He specifically questions
Rashi’s understanding since, as we have mentioned,  there is no hint in the
Torah that visiting the sick was the purpose of the visit.  He answers that
the words in the verse should be taken as they literally read – G-d simply
appeared to Avraham.  His presence descended upon Avraham and stayed with him
for the rest of his life.  He points to the fact that it never says that G-d
appeared to Avraham again for the rest of his life.  From this point an onwards
it is simply "Vayomer" – and G-d spoke to Avraham without having to
first appear to him since He was always with him.  This, says the Ohr Hachayim,
explains why the verse is written in a peculiar fashion.  While it really should
say "And G-d appeared to him," it mentions Avraham (him) first to
show that there was no separation between the appearance and the subject. 
G-d was completely connected to Avraham.


What prompted G-d to make this everlasting connection with Avraham at this
point in time?  To answer this question we can turn to Rav Hirsch who explains:



"G-d’s Presence is everywhere, but it is not apparent to everybody. 
Only after an act of devotion such as Avraham had just performed…does it
become really apparent to human beings." 



Avraham Avinu had just completed his circumcision, an act, especially at
his age, which demonstrated a remarkable closeness with G-d.  Avraham had dedicated
years of his life to serving G-d and now the connection which he had forged
with G-d was imprinted on his physical self.  Now Avraham could truly sense
G-d with him in a tangible way wherever he went. 


The one remaining question we have using the approach of the Ohr Hachayim
in conjunction with Rav Hirsch, is why the Torah does not mention Avraham by
name but  refers to him as "ailav""him?"    We could answer
using the explanation of the Sifsei Chachamim from earlier that "ailav" connects
what was occurring here to the previous story.  Thus, it is informing us why
G-d now became connected to Avraham – because of the circumcision, as Rav Hirsch
explained.  However, we can take it one step deeper.


The Kli Yakar asks the question regarding the omission of Avraham’s name. 
He answers that the name "Avraham" captured the fact that Avraham was "av
hamon goyim"
"the father of the nations."   However, G-d does
not make Himself more readily discernable and available to humans because of
their earthly achievements.  Rather, he does so because of their humility. 
The more humble a person is, the easier it is for them to see the presence
of G-d in the their lives.  Thus, when teaching us about G-d’s complete and
everlasting connection to Avraham, the Torah emphasizes that this does not
occur because Avraham was a famous leader among the nations as was represented
in his name.  Rather, it was "ailav" "to him" for who he
truly was: a humble and modest individual.  


G-d’s Presence is everywhere. All of us certainly strive to sense His Presence
in our lives.  Our understanding of the first verse in the Parsha combining
the Ohr Hachayim, the Kli Yakar, and Rav Hirsch has revealed two ways in which
we can sense G-d more openly in our lives and create a tangible feeling of
connection to Him.  One approach is through acts of devotion to G-d.  The more
we give ourselves over to G-d, the more easily we can sense His presence in
our lives. 


The second method is through striving to be humble.  Moshe Rabbeinu states
in Devarim 5:5  that "I stand between G-d and you."  On a literal
level, Moshe is explaining that he serves as the intermediary between G-d and
the Jewish people. However, commentaries explain that this verse can be understood
in a deeper way.  "I," focusing on ourselves and not acting with humility "stands
between G-d and you."
 In order to break down the barrier
which exists between us and G-d, we must become selfless individuals who recognize
that we are nothing on our own and everything which we have ultimately comes
from  G-d.  As the Torah states in Devarim 8:12 – "and your hearts will
become proud and you will forget G-d."        


May we all strive to emulate Avraham Avinu and enable ourselves to see G-d
more clearly through our acts of devotion to Him.  Furthermore, may we work
hard to be humble people who recognize that G-d is truly the source of all
that we have and everything we are.  This recognition will help us break down
the barrier which hides G-d from our consciousness and will help us fulfill
our desire for an everlasting connection to Him.