Last week, in Parasha Lech Lecha, Abraham, in obedience to the call of God, left the land of his fathers and journeyed to the Promised Land.
In this week’s Parasha, 99-year-old Abraham entertains angels who reveal to him that Sarah will give birth to a son in a year despite her advanced age. They also announce the coming destruction of Sodom.
Vayera begins with Abraham sitting at the entrance of his tent. According to Rashi, an 11th century Torah and Talmud (oral law) commentator, Abraham was convalescing.
It was only three days after he was circumcised in obedience to God as a sign of the covenant when he saw three strangers. (Genesis 17:11)
Even though Abraham did not know who these strangers were, he welcomed them and gave them his best!
While the Hebrew initially identifies the guests as anashim (men), we might understand from the rest of the text that Abraham perceives them as men at first.
Amazingly, however, the strangers that Abraham welcomed were not men, but angels.
In Jewish tradition, they are the angels Gabriel, Raphael and Michael; nevertheless, only two seem to be angels and the third someone far greater—YHVH, the Lord Himself.
That one of the strangers was the Lord seems clear: the opening verse of this Parasha states that “the LORD [YHVH] appeared to Abraham.” (Genesis 18:1)
And when the three guests were leaving, Abraham walked with them for a bit “to see them on their way.” At that point, the Lord spoke to Abraham saying, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” (Genesis 18:16–33)
Many believe that the angel who is called the Lord was a pre-incarnate appearance of Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah).
The two guests who continue on from their visit with Abraham to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah are clearly identified as angels in Genesis 19:
“The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening.” (Genesis 19:1)
Hospitality: Showing Kindness
“If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord [adoni], do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.” (Genesis 18:3–4)
One theme in this Torah portion is showing hospitality and kindness to strangers.
Abraham sat at the entrance of his tent, watching for any visitors or strangers, determined not to miss an opportunity to be cordial or hospitable.
As well, when the angels visited Sodom, Lot was sitting at the gate of the city and invited them to his home.
This custom was rooted in something more than just good manners: at its heart was mercy.
In the harsh desert climate, the offer of hospitality could potentially save the life of a sojourner.
In Lot’s case, the danger for these visitors was not the harsh desert but the depraved men demanding that Lot hand them over to be raped.
Lot did his best to protect them but couldn’t. The angels supernaturally intervened to save Lot’s family by blinding the attackers.
The realization that hospitality is not merely entertaining guests might encourage us to be on the lookout for opportunities to be hospitable.
And when we offer hospitality to strangers, like Abraham and Lot, we may even be entertaining angels unawares.
“Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.” (Hebrews 13:1–2)
“About this time next year,” Elisha said, “you will hold a son in your arms.” (2 Kings 4:16)
Among the themes that connect the Sedra (Torah portion) and the Haftarah (Prophetic portion) are appointed times, supernatural conception and hospitality.