My notes on Vayeira

Parashat Vayeira (Genesis 18-22)

Chapter 18

18:1          And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;

Comment: “And the LORD appeared”: The word “appeared” is related to being seen. Seeing is accomplished by eyes. Human eyes can only see a finite range. So at least literally, Gd can take a finite form to be seen by human eyes. 

If Gd appears in a finite form only 6 ft tall, can he still reach the clouds to make them rain?

Yes. Gd’s essence and power is not limited by any finite form. If Gd appears in a finite human form only 6ft tall, we can’t use this measurement to conclude that He cannot reach the clouds high above to make them rain; that finite human form is only His representation used in communication with human beings.  He doesn’t need to use the hands of this human form to touch the clouds to make them rain, since all physical creations and physical laws are His servants; He could dispatch a cold wind to make the clouds rain, instead.


18:2          And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground,

Comment:  “and, lo, three men”: If the LRD appeared in singular grammar (in Hebrew) in the last verse, why here Abraham saw three men in plural?

Regarding this mysterious phenomenon, there is a trinity explanation from Christian theology, but not all Christians agree. See, e.g., Instead of using the theological explanation of trinity, I will try to explain the verses in common sense.

From the text later (v.18:21-22; v.19:1), it seems that the three men represent the LRD Himself and His two angels. However, since the two angels do exactly what the LRD commands, then whatever the LRD Himself does, or whatever He does through His two angels, are all actions from the will of the One (singular) LRD Himself. 

Gd is One, but He can appear in multiple (and plural) forms simultaneously, which may seem to be separated in our three dimensional space, but are really united (and singular) in a “higher” dimension. A poor analogy might be the following. When the ants living a two dimensional world see two shoes and one staff appearing near them, they see the shoes and the staff being three separated objects in their word, and therefore being plural. However, the wiser ants may notice that the three objects always walk in a coordinated manner, they would conclude that there must be a singular human behind them. Therefore, the two shoes and one staff separated in the ants’ world are really connected and united by the singular human in a higher world. 

A related question: Are Christians polytheistic (worshiping more than one gds), if they worship both Gd the Father and Jesus the Son of Gd?

No. Christians worship One Gd. On the surface, the Father and the Son appeared to be two separated identities, especially when Jesus was praying to the Father, or when Father was talking in a heavenly voice.  However, Jesus said that (John 10:30) “I and my Father are one.” Although they seem to be separated in the eyes of us – the “three dimensional ants”, they are really United and One in a higher dimension. This is the highest form of unity, one that surpasses separation and differences.


18:32          And he said, Oh let not the LORD be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.

Comment: “for ten’s sake”: What’s so important about this number 10?

Ten righteous people would form a viable core that would lead to preservation of the city. Later in Chapter 19 we will see that only 3-4 people in Lot‘s family were worth salvation, so the city was destroyed. Number 10 is a significant number in Jewish tradition. Ten Jews form a “minyan” quorum or a congregation, Certain public prayers and public Torah reading requires a minyan of at least 10 people. 

Christian gatherings have a smaller minimal number. In the New Testament (Matthew 18:20), Jesus said: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Why didn’t Abraham continue to pray for salvation of a city with less than 10 righteous people?

Rashi’s commentary on v.18:28 and v.18:32 contains wonderful explanations.

Abraham already knew that 9 righteous people (10 lacking just 1) would not be a problem, since the LRD Himself would join them as the 10th one. Also, Abraham knew 8 righteous people wouldn’t be enough, since Noah’s family had 8 righteous people but couldn’t save the world. 


Chapter 19

19:27          And Abraham gat up early in the morning to the place where he stood before the LORD:

Comment: Why did the Jewish tradition claim that Abraham established the morning prayer? 

They used this verse as the scriptural basis.

The most important Jewish prayer is called Amidah, meaning “standing”. Therefore, the word “stood” in this verse can be related to the “standing prayer” in the morning (“in the morning … he stood”). 


Chapter 20

20:17          So Abraham prayed unto God: and God healed Abimelech, and his wife, and his maidservants; and they bare children.

Comment: Are you willing to pray for someone else to get something that you yourself don’t have? 

Abraham was. He was willing to pray for Abimelech’s wife to bear children, even if his wife Sarah had no child yet.


Chapter 21

21:11          And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son.

Comment: Abraham did not want to expel his son Ishmael.


21:12          And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.

Comment: Gd told Abraham to listen to his main wife Sarah to expel Ishmael and his mom (“thy bondwoman”).


21:13          And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.

Comment: Gd told Abraham that Ishmael (“the son of the bondwoman”) will become a nation.


21:14          And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.

Comment: Abraham listened to Gd. 

But why did Abraham just give Ishmael and his mom 1 bottle of water and some bread, even if he could have given them ten camels loads of food, drink and other goods (compare Genesis 24:10)? Did he not worry that they would soon run out of food and drink and die in the wilderness?

 I guess Abraham did not worry, since he trusted in Gd’s promise in v.13, and believed that Ishmael will survive in order to “become a nation”. Indeed Gd saved Ishmael and his mom by a miracle.


Chapter 22

22:2          And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.

Comment: Now that Abraham had expelled his older son Ishmael, he now only had one son Isaac with him. Gd challenged him to offer his only remaining son.


22:5          And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.

Comment: How come Abraham said that his son Isaac (“ … the lad) “will … come again to you”? Was he lying to his servants (“his young men”) in front of Isaac? Or was this an unintentional slip of tongue?  Or perhaps Abraham knew that Isaac was the promised seed (v.21:12) who would not die before seeding descendants, so that Isaac indeed would return alive since he would be spared from killing at the last moment? But wouldn’t this discount the difficulty of the challenge that Abraham was facing?  

The New Testament Hebrews (11:17-19) gives a perfect answer: “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.” So Abraham was indeed willing and fully prepared to sacrifice his son, but he also believed that even if Isaac died, Gd could still resurrect Isaac to seed descendants. So the recent command to offer Isaac would not contradict the past promise (17:19) that Gd would establish His covenant with Isaac “for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him”.

Indeed, what Abraham said to “his young men” became true. At the last moment, Gd spared Isaac, and Gd prepared a ram to be offered instead of Isaac. Isaac returned safely with Abraham.