Vayeira 5779

A very holy meal[1]

אם-נא מצאתי חן בעיניך אל-נא תעבר מעל עבדך: יקח-נא מעט-מים ורחצו רגליכם והשענו תחת העץ: ואקחה פת-לחם וסעדו לבכם אחר תעברו כי-על-כן עברתם על-עבדכם וגו’‏
…If I have now found favor in your eyes, please don’t pass by your servant. Let there be some water taken [for you], and you’ll wash your feet, and relax under the tree. I’ll take some loaves of bread and you’ll satiate your hearts, since you have passed by me. For this is the reason you passed by your servant[2]

A prime example of Avraham’s hospitality is found in this week’s parsha. Three Angels, disguised as Arab nomads[3], passed by Avraham’s tent. Despite being in recovery from his recent circumcision[4], Avraham insisted on taking care of their needs. He wined and dined them, going beyond the call of duty. He slaughtered three calves in order to feed each of them their own cow tongue[5]. He had his wife bake bread special just for them. Avraham clearly didn’t realize that they were Angels[6]. Not wanting to be rude and go against societal norms[7], the Angels pretended to eat[8], despite their lack of physical needs. Little did Avraham know that his alacritous hospitality would have a tremendous impact on the destiny of his future descendants.

When Moshe went up to Heaven to bring down the Torah[9], he presumably did not expect much resistance[10]. However, the Angels put up a fight. They weren’t going to sit by and let him take the Torah away from Heaven[11]. Hashem challenged Moshe to explain to the Angels why the Torah really belongs with human beings. Moshe asked the Angels if they were freed from Egypt, like the Jews were[12]. Do they have parents, whom they should honor? Do they feel jealousy[13], such that they should be commanded against coveting their neighbor’s property? The final tactic seems unusual[14]. Hashem gave Moshe a mask which resembled the face of Avraham[15]. The Angels were asked how they could not be embarrassed by their behavior, considering they benefited from Avraham’s hospitality[16]. Since they couldn’t argue back[17], the Torah was given to the Jewish people. However, as already stated, the Angels didn’t actually eat from the meal. They lacked physical bodies, and received no benefit from Avraham’s hospitality[18]. Even if they did somehow benefit, what relevance is this episode to where the Torah belongs? How was this a successful argument?

There’s an important halacha, where a person who goes from one town to another, must follow the local customs[19]. This is to avoid quarrels. However, there’s a not so well-known exception[20]. That is, if the person is coming from a Holy place and travels to a non-Holy place, they don’t have to keep the local customs[21]. An example should have been with the Angels. They came from the Heavens, a seemingly Holy place, and traveled to Earth. They felt that they had to follow the common custom of eating what their host served them. According to this principle, they didn’t need to pretend to eat. So why did they?

We see from here an amazing idea. The house of Avraham, who kept the entire Torah[22], was in fact a tremendously Holy place. Mitzvah observance involves using your intellect to overcome base desires and instincts[23]. The Angels sensed this when they came to Avraham’s home. Since they came from a Holy place to a new Holy place, they felt compelled to follow the local custom. Therefore, they pretended to eat that which Avraham served them.

This realization of the Angels is what Moshe used to triumph against them in the future. They were claiming that the Torah, which is entirely Holy and spiritual, doesn’t belong in the Earthly realm. Hashem gave Moshe a mask of Avraham, and they were reminded that their claim was false. When the Torah is fulfilled in this world, the world becomes sanctified[24]. Therefore, it would be entirely appropriate to bring the Torah down to Earth. This is why the Angels couldn’t argue back.

Good Shabbos

 

[1] Based on a devar Torah shared by my chashuve roommate/chavrusa hechosson Chezky Freund נ”י, quoting Rav Reuven Rodinsky

[2] Genesis 18:3-5

[3] Rashi to verse 4, quoting Bava Metzia 86b.  This is true for all the following Rashi’s in this story

[4] Ibid to verse 1

[5] Ibid to verse 7

[6] Ibid to verse 4. Also Rashi to verse 16 says Avraham still thought they were nomads, even after one of them prophesized that Sarah will bear a son (see Mizrachi ad. loc.)

[7] Ibid to verse 8

[8] Genesis 18:8 says they ate. Rashi ad. loc. says that they pretended to eat. Cf. Tosafos to Bava Metzia loc. cit. s.v.  נראין כאוכלין who bring from Tanna D’Vei Eliyahu Rabbah Chapter 12 that they literally ate, for the honor of Avraham. See note 18

[9] The following Midrash appears in many different places, with several differences. The details will be cited as they appear

[10] He did, after all, go up to Heaven with Hashem’s permission (Mechilta D’Rashbi to Exodus 19:3)

[11] See http://parshaponders.com/shavuos-5777 for why the Angels would want the Torah

[12] Shabbos 88b

[13] See Gilyon HaShas ad. loc.

[14] In Shabbos loc. cit. his last question is: do you have a yetzer hara, Evil Inclination? See note 24

[15] Shemos Rabbah 28:1. See a discussion of this Midrash in Bnei Yissaschar Sivan 2:2

[16] See Midrash Tehillim 8:2 (whose source is Pesikta Rabbasi § 25 s.v. עשר תעשר, brought by the Rokeach Hilchos Issur VeHeter § 469), where Hashem rebukes the Angels for eating milk and meat together at the meal of Avraham. Parenthetically, the Beis HaLevi parshas Yisro s.v. הכל מודים says that this particular Midrash is the reason for the custom to eat milk on Shavuos, when we commemorate receiving the Torah

[17] Even though only three Angels ate from Avraham’s meal. Two of them were the great Angels Gavriel and Michael (Bava Metzia loc. cit.). Since they were too embarrassed to respond, all the other Angels surely were powerless to resist (Maharzu ad. loc.)

[18] Cf. Imrei Yosher ad. loc., who says that since they were able to eat physical food, despite their spiritual nature, so too Moshe, despite his physical nature, deserves to receive the spiritual Torah. See note 8

[19] Pesachim 4:1

[20] Chezky says Rav Rodinsky said it’s found in the gemarra, but I couldn’t find it. Also, see the next note

[21] This doesn’t appear to be the halacha, as residents of Eretz Yisroel have to keep the second day of Yom Tov when they are outside the land (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 496:3). Perhaps this exception only applies to certain customs that aren’t halachic in nature, such as the custom to eat when served food

[22] Kiddushin 4:14; Genesis 26:5 with Rashi (based on Yoma 28b); Bereishis Rabbah 64:4

[23] Rav Yitzchok Berkovits says this is the definition of kedusha

[24] Chezky wanted to tie this explanation for this Midrash with the other, more popular Midrash (see note 14), which ends off with Moshe asking the Angels if they have a yetzer hara. The yetzer hara is the cause of one’s base desires. These desires provide the opportunity for kedusha, when a person uses their intellect and follows the Torah instead of their instincts. In the end, it’s the same argument against the Angels: The Torah provides tremendous opportunities for holiness in this world

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