Abraham – a man of hospitality

And the LORD appeared to him (Abraham) by the oaks (or terabinths) of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day2And he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the opening of the tent, and bowed himself toward the ground, 3and said, My Lord,[1] if now I have found favor in your sight, pass not away, I pray, from your servant.”          (Bereisheet (Genesis) 18:1-3)

These are the opening verses for Genesis 18 (above), and also the beginning of the parasha (Torah portion) Vayeira (“And he appeared”). However, please note the first word of this chapter: “And.” In the Hebrew, it is simply the letter vav (וָ), which forms a conjunction with the verses before, in Genesis 17. What happened in Genesis 17? I’m so glad you asked! In chapter 17, God made a covenant with Abraham:

As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you (Abraham), and you shall be a father of many nations. 5Neither shall your name any more be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made you. 6And I will make you exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come out of you.

7And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your seed (descendants) after you in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God to you, and to your seed after you. 8And I will give to you, and to your seed after you, the land wherein you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. 

9And God said to Abraham, “You shall keep My covenant therefore, you, and your seed after you in their generations. 10This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your seed after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised. 11And you shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant between Me and you.  12And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every male child throughout your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, who is not of your seed. 13He that is born in your house, and he that is bought with your money, must be circumcised: and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.

The covenant of circumcision was never abrogated. Neither was the promise of land. The land of Canaan belongs to the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We are not anti-Arab. God has blessed the Arabs, who have 540 times as much land as the Jews. May God continue to bless the Arabs! But that tiny little territory formerly called Canaan belongs to the Jews. The problem, of course, is that the Arabs want it all. Non-Arabs (even if they are Muslims, such as the Kurds) are denied countries of their own. Also, the Jews were in Canaan long before the Arabs. And God says that this little piece of land belongs to the Jews.

     In the concluding verses of chapter 17, we see Abraham getting circumcised when he was 99 years old, and Ishmael getting circumcised when he was 13 years old. Arabs to this day do their circumcisions when the boys become 13 years old. This is a relatively minor procedure for an infant male on the 8th day, but for a 13-year-old boy, it is a major ordeal. And Abraham was 99 years old! I was only a baby when I got circumcised, and I couldn’t walk for a full year! J Try to imagine the pain that Abraham endured at age 99.

     According to the Rabbis, Genesis 18 opens with Abraham in third day after his circumcision, when the pain is the most severe and the man is most weakened. The three angels were fulfilling the mitzvah (commandment or “good deed”) of visiting the sick (bikur cholim). “God visited him to show him honor for having carried out the commandment and to acknowledge that he had thereby elevated himself to a new spiritual plateau.” [2]

     Abrahammsaw this as an opportunity to show hospitality to strangers, which is another mitzvah (commandment or “good deed”) in Judaism. Even in his weakened condition, even after the horrendous pain of adult circumcision, even in the heat of the day in the hot desert sun, Abraham still felt the need to search for strangers, in order to show them hospitality. Today in most Western nations, it is considered “bad manners” to drop in on people unannounced. However, in most Eastern cultures, it is fully acceptable, and the host does his or her best to take great care in showing hospitality to the guests.

     By the way, we have all seen pictures of the three angels visiting Abraham. Each angel often has wings in most pictures. In actuality, most angels looked like ordinary men. The cherubim and seraphim had wings, but most angels look completely human! Then in Gen. 18:4, Abraham offers to wash the feet of the three angels. In Abe’s mind, these were simply ordinary men. However, in the Middle East, it was considered simply good manners to offer to wash the feet of the guests. Most journeys involved much walking. The feet were dirty and tired. It would be bad manners if the host were to refuse to wash the feet of the guests!

     “But Abraham longed for guests, because a tzaddik (“righteous man”) is never content with past accomplishments; he seeks to serve God at all times. In Abraham’s case, his manner of service was through being kind to people, thereby drawing them into his orbit so he could inspire them with his example to learn about and serve God.” [3] Abraham was something of a missionary to the world. Judaism continued to be a missionary nation for many centuries. However, after the Council of Nicea in 325 CE,[4] it became dangerous for Jews to proselytize, as both the Jew and convert might be subjected to severe penalties, including death. The rise of Islam made proselytizing even more dangerous. Today, a rabbi will agree to instruct a potential convert into Judaism, but usually only after the Gentile asks three times. He is refused the first two times. However, Zechariah 8:23 tells us that “ten men from all the nations will grasp the kanaf (‘corner’ of the garment) of him that is a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’.” I would assume that they will be grabbing the tsitsit (ritual fringes). I would also assume that these would be Torah-observant Messianic Jews, in order to have these fringes!

     Then Abraham offers to bring fat-lechem (a piece of bread). He offers to do little, but ends up doing much! The Talmud says that “the righteous say little and do much” (bava metzia 87a). He tells Sarah to prepare “three measures” of fine flour to make bread. This would have been matzah (unleavened bread), as it would not have had time to rise. Then Abraham ran to the herd to get a ben bakar (calf). Abraham was 99 years old, and was very sore from the circumcision, and he ran to get a calf for the guests!

Then he prepared the calf for a sumptuous meal. In verse 8, we read, “And (Abraham) 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 did eat.” Today, based on Exodus 23:19 (“You shall not boil a kid [baby goat] in its mother’s milk”), the Rabbis tell us not to have milk and meat in the same meal. We take Exodus 23:19 very seriously. We never boil a kid in its mother’s milk! However, this verse does not forbid milk and meat in the same meal. The Rabbinic prohibition even extends to poultry, whereby Orthodox Jews will not even have dairy products when turkey or chicken is being eaten. My Chumash says that Abraham served the dairy items first, allowed the dairy items to be properly digested, and then brought out the meat. However, Genesis 18:8 strongly indicates it was all served at once!


In Genesis 18:10, the angels tell Abraham once again that he and Sarah would be having a son. Sarah was eavesdropping, a fairly easy task when people live in a tent. And just like Abraham in Genesis 17:17, she laughed! However, unlike Abe, she didn’t fall down on her face laughing. According to the Rabbis, Sarah laughed in unbelief. Keep in mind that being childless was a shameful thing for a woman at that time. She would have loved to have had a child when she was young. However, I believe that God wanted a supernatural birth in bringing the Chosen People into existence. Sarah denied laughing, perhaps in fear. According to tradition, Sarah conceived on Rosh HaShanah. I wasn’t there, so I’m not arguing with the Rabbis on this one! In Genesis 17:19, God gave the name Yitzchak (or Isaac – meaning laughter) to the child who would be born, a very appropriate name, considering that both Abraham and Sarah laughed!


According to the Rabbis, the reason for the three angels is that each had specific missions. The angel Michael informed Abraham that Sarah would have a son, Gabriel overturned Sodom and Gomorrah, and Raphael healed Abraham and saved Lot (according to Rashi’s commentary). At least one of these angels is addressed as YHWH (pre-incarnate Yeshua?).

     Since Abraham had proven himself so worthily, and since he would become a great nation, the angels decided to tell him of their mission to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Here we have the famous “bargaining” in which he begins by asking if God would sweep away the cities if there were indeed 50 righteous living in them. For the sake of the 50, they would not be destroyed. He finally gets it down to ten righteous people. For the sake of the ten righteous people, God would not destroy the cities. This lays the foundation for the minyan, the minimum quorum of Jews required for certain prayers, or for reading from the Torah scroll.

     Abraham didn’t attempt to bargain it down any lower. He knew that at the time of the Great Flood, there were only eight righteous people in the world, and the world was destroyed. However, the fact that Abraham interceded for these cities proves to the Rabbis that Abraham was more righteous than Noach. There is no record of Noach interceding for the people.

     In Genesis 19, we have only two angels proceeding to Sodom, where they met Lot. Lot offered hospitality to the angels, even bowing with his face to the ground. Like Abraham, he prepared a feast, including matzah (unleavened bread). However, before they had a chance to lie down for the night, Lot’s home was surrounded by the men of the city, both young and old, who demanded that the men (angels) be brought out of the house so that “we may know them.” This is a Hebraism for having sexual relations, a Hebraism that is preserved in the KJV in Matthew 1:25 and Luke 1:34. Not only did the men of Sodom show no hospitality to the strangers; they also wanted to sodomize them. The men at the door were struck with blindness, rendering them unable to do their evil deeds.

     The men (angels) told Lot, his wife, his sons, his daughters, and the men who were engaged to his daughters to flee Sodom, because God was going to destroy the city. However, the only ones to believe the message were Lot, his wife, and his daughters. In Genesis 19:24-25, we read, “Then YHWH rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from YHWH out of heaven; 25And He overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.” In verse 24, we see that there was a YHWH on earth, and another YHWH in heaven. In verse 25, we see that all the cities on the plain were destroyed. According to the Rabbis, this includes all the cities mentioned in Genesis 14:2.

     You know the story. Mrs. Lot looked back and became a pillar of salt. If you go to Israel today, alongside the “Dead Sea” (Yam HaMelach – Sea of Salt), you will come to a location where there is a pillar of salt. The sign beside it states that this is Lot’s wife. I stopped the car, got out and licked that pillar. Lot’s wife is indeed a salty woman! However, it is likely that Lot’s salty wife would have dissolved in the rare desert rains centuries ago.

     Finally, Lot’s daughters are convinced that they and their dad might be the only three people left on earth. In order to save the human race, they decide to get their dad drunk with wine. On one night, the oldest daughter goes in, and has sexual relations with her dad. Lot goes to sleep and wakes up, and has no idea of what has happened. On the next night, they get their dad drunk again. The younger daughter then has relations with him. Both daughters become pregnant. The first-born daughter bears a son called Moab (“from father”), the ancestor of the Moabites. The second-born also bears a son, named Ben-Ammi (“son of my father”), the father of the Ammonites. Many of the descendants of both the Moabites and Ammonites live to this day in the country called Jordan.  

[1] The Hebrew word used in the Massoretic Hebrew Bibles is “Adonai.” However, according to Ginsburg’s Introduction to the Massoretical-critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible published by KTAV, Hoboken NJ, the original word used in this verse was יְהֹוָה (YHWH). This is one of many places in the Torah where the divine name was replaced by the term Adonai, including Gen. 18:27,30,32; 19:18; 20:4 in this parasha.

[2] Quoted from Interlinear Chumash, Bereishis, Schottenstein Edition, ArtScroll, © 2006, p. 86. This is also the source for information about what the Rabbis say about Abraham, which is repeated in many other Jewish sources.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Common Era, equivalent to “A.D.”

By Rav Richard (Aharon) Chaimberlin

Source: Abraham: A Man of Hospitality (petahtikvah.com)

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