Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Vayera: Hashem and Two Angels Walk Into A Tent

Stop me if you've heard this one.

Seriously, though, here is a plausible account of the happenings in parshat Vayera. It might be considered heresy, according to the ikkarei emuna of the Rambam, because it assumes a corporeal God. So you might wish to stop here. Still, Divrei HaRav vs. Divrei HaTalmid, Divrei Mi Shom'in? That is, Rambam formulates his principles based on what he understood to be correct and what he understood was heresy, and opposed certain other Rabbanim of his day who took opposite approaches. Yet what should determine Jewish theology? If the Torah honestly and indeed propounds X, then by definition that is our theology, and is a disproof to later, medieval Jewish theology. Still, we do have traditions of how to interpret Tanach, and should follow Chazal in this. Also, if need be, we can always appeal to the assertion that these events did not physically happened, but occurred in a prophetic dream, as Avraham sat in the heat of the day. At any rate, what follows is mostly not new, but you may not have seen it before.

How many angels visited Avraham? The common Jewish assumption is that three angels visited. However, we can read the narrative as stating that only two angels visited Avraham, just as only two angels visited Lot in the subsequent narrative. The fact that a third "man" appears to Avraham is no proof that this was an angel. Rather, say it was a manifestation of God.

The parsha begins in Bereishit 18:
א וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו ה, בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא; וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב פֶּתַח-הָאֹהֶל, כְּחֹם הַיּוֹם. 1 And the LORD appeared unto him by the terebinths of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;
Hashem appears to him, but then we don't find out the contents of this prophecy, or any recording of the conversation between Avraham and Hashem.

For the next pesukim read:
ב וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו, וַיַּרְא, וְהִנֵּה שְׁלֹשָׁה אֲנָשִׁים, נִצָּבִים עָלָיו; וַיַּרְא, וַיָּרָץ לִקְרָאתָם מִפֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל, וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ, אָרְצָה. 2 and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood over against him; and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed down to the earth,
ג וַיֹּאמַר: אֲדֹנָי, אִם-נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ--אַל-נָא תַעֲבֹר, מֵעַל עַבְדֶּךָ. 3 and said: 'My lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant.
What happened to Hashem?

Rashi, of course, picks up on this difficulty, and writes several comments. For example, on pasuk 1, he explains Hashem's purpose:
And [the Lord] appeared to him to visit the sick (Tan. Buber, Vayera 1). Said Rabbi Chama the son of Chanina: It was the third day from his circumcision, and the Holy One, blessed be He, came and inquired about his welfare (B. M. 86b).
Given that otherwise we have no reason or content, we now understand the reason for the visit.

Furthermore, on pasuk 3, Rashi writes:
And he said, “My lords, if only I have, etc.” To the chief one he said this, and he called them all lords, and to the chief one he said,“Please do not pass by,” because if he would not pass by, his companions would stay with him. According to this version, it (אִדֹנָי) is profane (Shev. 35b) (i.e., it does not refer to God). Another explanation: It (אִדֹנָי) is holy, and he was telling the Holy One, blessed be He, to wait for him until he would run and bring in the wayfarers. And although this [“Do not pass by”] is written after, “and ran toward them,” the statement [to God, “do not pass by”] preceded it. It is customary for the verses to speak in this manner, as I explained in reference to (above 6:3): “Let My spirit not quarrel forever concerning man” [the decree that God would wait 120 years before bringing the Flood] which was written after (5: 32):“And Noah begot.” But it is impossible to say otherwise than that the decree preceded the birth [of Japhet] by 20 years. And the two interpretations [of אִדֹנָי as being profane and holy in this context] are in Genesis Rabbah .
According to the explanation that it refers to God, we not only understand the kametz in the word "Adonai" (rather than being a plural or singular "lords/lord") but we also have a conversation between Avraham and Hashem.

And not only that, now the very text of the Chumash makes reference to the fact that Avraham interrupted his conversation with Hashem in order to fulfill hachnasat orchim. That there is an interjection of pasuk 3, Rashi explains away as being out of order. I would add that perhaps we can read pasuk 22 as continuing this conversation.

Thus, Hashem visited. Then Avraham saw the guests, asked Hashem to wait and not to go away -- "'My lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant." Then, Avraham ran to them and engaged in hospitality.

What about the three angels by Avraham turning into two angels by Lot? Rashi handles this as well, citing a midrash about angelic purpose. On pasuk 2, Rashi writes:
and behold, three men One to bring the news [of Isaac’s birth] to Sarah, and one to overturn Sodom, and one to heal Abraham, for one angel does not perform two errands (Gen. Rabbah 50:2). You should know that [this is true] because throughout the entire chapter, Scripture mentions them in the plural, e.g., (below verse 8): “and they ate” ; (ibid. verse 9): “and they said to him.” Concerning the announcement, however, it says (ibid. verse 10): “And he said: I will surely return to you.” And concerning the overturning of Sodom, it says (below 19:22): “For I will not be able to do anything” ; (ibid. verse 21): “I will not overturn” (Gen. Rabbah 50:11). And Raphael, who healed Abraham, went from there to save Lot. This is what is stated:“And it came to pass when they took them outside, that he [the angel] said, ‘Flee for your life.’” You learn that only one acted as a deliverer.
This explains the change from 3 angels to 2 angels.

Another answer, which can account for this, is that pasuk 1, which says that Hashem appeared to Avraham, is expanded upon in pasuk 2. Pasuk 2, with the appearance of the three "men," is how Hashem appeared to Avraham. As we will see, another pasuk states that rather than going on to Sodom, Hashem stays with Avraham, which leaves two angels to approach Sodom.

Avraham addressed the most prominent of them, or else all of them, in pasuk 3, asking them to stay and enjoy his hospitality. At this point, Avraham does not know that these are angels and Hashem. Therefore, the use of Adonai, especially spelled with a kametz, is both irony and foreshadowing.

Continuing the narrative, Avraham is hospitable to his guests. Suddenly, one of the guests, or else Hashem, tells Avraham that Sarah will have a son:
ח וַיִּקַּח חֶמְאָה וְחָלָב, וּבֶן-הַבָּקָר אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה, וַיִּתֵּן, לִפְנֵיהֶם; וְהוּא-עֹמֵד עֲלֵיהֶם תַּחַת הָעֵץ, וַיֹּאכֵלוּ. 8 And he took curd, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat.
ט וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו, אַיֵּה שָׂרָה אִשְׁתֶּךָ; וַיֹּאמֶר, הִנֵּה בָאֹהֶל. 9 And they said unto him: 'Where is Sarah thy wife?' And he said: 'Behold, in the tent.'
י וַיֹּאמֶר, שׁוֹב אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ כָּעֵת חַיָּה, וְהִנֵּה-בֵן, לְשָׂרָה אִשְׁתֶּךָ; וְשָׂרָה שֹׁמַעַת פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל, וְהוּא אַחֲרָיו. 10 And He said: 'I will certainly return unto thee when the season cometh round; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son.' And Sarah heard in the tent door, which was behind him.--
Note the switch from the plural וַיֹּאמְרוּ asking where Sarah is and the singular וַיֹּאמֶר in pasuk 10. Why the shift?

Also, when in the world do we see one of the angels return?

Rashi explains:
I will surely return The angel did not announce that he [himself] would return to him, but he was speaking to him as an emissary of the Omnipresent. Similarly (above 16: 10): “And the angel said to her: I will greatly multiply [your seed]” but he [the angel] did not have the power to multiply [her children], but he spoke as an emissary of the Omnipresent. Here too, it was as an emissary of the Omnipresent that he said this to him. (Elisha said to the Shunamite woman (II Kings 4:16): “At this season, at this time next year, you will be embracing a son.” And she said, “No my lord, O man of God, do not fail your maidservant. Those angels who announced to Sarah, said (below verse 14): ‘At the appointed time, I will return,’” [but Elisha did not promise to return]. Elisha replied, “Those angels, who live and endure forever, said, ‘At the appointed time, I will return.’ But I am flesh and blood, alive today and dead tomorrow. Whether I shall be alive or dead, ‘At this time, etc. [you will embrace a son.’”] (Gen. Rabbah 53:2).
The reason for the shift to singular, according to Rashi, is that this is one of the angels. Still the angel speaks as the emissary of Hashem.

Suddenly, rather than the angel speaking, it is Hashem, that is YKVK, speaking. And not only that, he uses the same language of returning when the season comes round:
יב וַתִּצְחַק שָׂרָה, בְּקִרְבָּהּ לֵאמֹר: אַחֲרֵי בְלֹתִי הָיְתָה-לִּי עֶדְנָה, וַאדֹנִי זָקֵן. 12 And Sarah laughed within herself, saying: 'After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?'
יג וַיֹּאמֶר ה, אֶל-אַבְרָהָם: לָמָּה זֶּה צָחֲקָה שָׂרָה לֵאמֹר, הַאַף אֻמְנָם אֵלֵד--וַאֲנִי זָקַנְתִּי. 13 And the LORD said unto Abraham: 'Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying: Shall I of a surety bear a child, who am old?
יד הֲיִפָּלֵא מֵה, דָּבָר; לַמּוֹעֵד אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ, כָּעֵת חַיָּה--וּלְשָׂרָה בֵן. 14 Is any thing too hard for the LORD. At the set time I will return unto thee, when the season cometh round, and Sarah shall have a son.'
What can account for this?

Well, Rashi explained above that Hashem would return, not the angel. So Hashem's picking up of this conversation thread is understandable.

But why would Hashem interject, now? And what happened to the angels at that point?

An alternative explanation is that one of the "men" continued the conversation, for he was Hashem. Thus, Hashem now reveals himself to Avraham.

The narrative continues:
טז וַיָּקֻמוּ מִשָּׁם הָאֲנָשִׁים, וַיַּשְׁקִפוּ עַל-פְּנֵי סְדֹם; וְאַבְרָהָם--הֹלֵךְ עִמָּם, לְשַׁלְּחָם. 16 And the men rose up from thence, and looked out toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to bring them on the way.
So all three men seem to be ready to go to Sodom. Yet only two arrive. We must resort to Rashi's explanation of angelic purpose, above. Alternatively, one of the angels is Hashem.

Once again, an interjection from Hashem:
יז וַה, אָמָר: הַמְכַסֶּה אֲנִי מֵאַבְרָהָם, אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי עֹשֶׂה. 17 And the LORD said: 'Shall I hide from Abraham that which I am doing;
יח וְאַבְרָהָם--הָיוֹ יִהְיֶה לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל, וְעָצוּם; וְנִבְרְכוּ-בוֹ--כֹּל, גּוֹיֵי הָאָרֶץ. 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?
יט כִּי יְדַעְתִּיו, לְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר יְצַוֶּה אֶת-בָּנָיו וְאֶת-בֵּיתוֹ אַחֲרָיו, וְשָׁמְרוּ דֶּרֶךְ ה, לַעֲשׂוֹת צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט--לְמַעַן, הָבִיא ה עַל-אַבְרָהָם, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר, עָלָיו. 19 For I have known him, to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice; to the end that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him.'
This decision to tell Avraham, just as the angels are leaving, is a bit interesting. Why now? "What I am doing" would seem to be a reference to the destruction of Sodom.

There are two ways of reading the following pesukim. They state:
כ וַיֹּאמֶר ה, זַעֲקַת סְדֹם וַעֲמֹרָה כִּי-רָבָּה; וְחַטָּאתָם--כִּי כָבְדָה, מְאֹד. 20 And the LORD said: 'Verily, the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and, verily, their sin is exceeding grievous.
כא אֵרְדָה-נָּא וְאֶרְאֶה, הַכְּצַעֲקָתָהּ הַבָּאָה אֵלַי עָשׂוּ כָּלָה; וְאִם-לֹא, אֵדָעָה 21 I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto Me; and if not, I will know.'

Stylistically, if these verses were to stand alone, it would really really seem that this is a separate narrative. That is, Hashem is not speaking to Avraham here, but is rather to Himself. Compare with another scene of destruction featuring Hashem as actor, in Migdal Bavel, in Bereshit 11:
ו וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, הֵן עַם אֶחָד וְשָׂפָה אַחַת לְכֻלָּם, וְזֶה, הַחִלָּם לַעֲשׂוֹת; וְעַתָּה לֹא-יִבָּצֵר מֵהֶם, כֹּל אֲשֶׁר יָזְמוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת. 6 And the LORD said: 'Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is what they begin to do; and now nothing will be withholden from them, which they purpose to do.
ז הָבָה, נֵרְדָה, וְנָבְלָה שָׁם, שְׂפָתָם--אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִשְׁמְעוּ, אִישׁ שְׂפַת רֵעֵהוּ. 7 Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.'
In that one, Hashem is speaking to Himself, or to his Bet Din of angels, describing the situation, then concluding his course of action. And erda na matches nerda here. The same idea of Hashem's descending to earth and taking action.

Besides, isn't Hashem already down there, either alone visiting Avraham, or as one of the three "men" visiting Avraham? Why the need to descend? Rashi addresses what descend means here, noting:
I will descend now This teaches judges that they should not decide capital punishment cases unless they see it [i.e., they must go to the site of the crime and investigate the matter.]- [Divrei David]) Everything is as I explained in the chapter dealing with the dispersion (Tan. Noah 18). Another explanation: I will descend to the end of their deeds (to fathom the results thereof). - [Be’er Mayim Chayim]).
Note as well that Rashi makes the connection to the Tower of Bavel.

According to LittleFoxling, all of Bereishit 18 and 19 is J. So the Documentary Hypothesis does not deal with this problem, since it would claim it was all a single source. There would appear to be a macro-level and micro-level description of the destruction of Sodom here, interwoven. (I would select certain other pesukim as well for this macro-level.) But here is not the place to elaborate.

Rashi sees this issue, that it appears that Hashem speaks to Himself, and clarifies the issue for us. He writes:
And the Lord said to Abraham, for He did as He had said, that He would not conceal from him.
This is a great application of the question, "what is bothering Rashi?" It is clear that it is this issue that is bothering Rashi.

The narrative continues:
כב וַיִּפְנוּ מִשָּׁם הָאֲנָשִׁים, וַיֵּלְכוּ סְדֹמָה; וְאַבְרָהָם--עוֹדֶנּוּ עֹמֵד, לִפְנֵי ה. 22 And the men turned from thence, and went toward Sodom; but Abraham stood yet before the LORD.
כג וַיִּגַּשׁ אַבְרָהָם, וַיֹּאמַר: הַאַף תִּסְפֶּה, צַדִּיק עִם-רָשָׁע. 23 And Abraham drew near, and said: 'Wilt Thou indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?
A critical Rashi here, on pasuk 22:
and Abraham was still standing, etc. But is it not so that he did not go to stand before Him, but the Holy One, blessed be He, came to him and said to him (above verse 20): “Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah has become great, etc.,” and it should have been written here: “and the Lord was still standing beside Abraham?” But this is an emendation of the Scribes (Gen. Rabbah 49:7). (The Sages of blessed memory changed the text and wrote it in this manner) [to avoid an irreverent expression, i.e., it would be offensive to God to say that He was standing before Abraham!]
There are two ways to understand an "emendation of the Scribes." Either the text of the Torah as written was actually changed, or else the intent is the opposite, but the Torah was given as we see it, even though Hashem still stood before Avraham.

Note that following this emendation, we have evidence that two of the men are angels, while one is Hashem. After all, the "men" went towards Sodom, and two arrived, but Hashem stayed in order to talk and argue with Avraham. Thus, of the three initial "men," Hashem stayed before Avraham, leaving two "men" to go to Sodom.

At the end of this, and at the end of the perek, Hashem and Avraham finish talking, and Hashem goes on His way:
לג וַיֵּלֶךְ ה--כַּאֲשֶׁר כִּלָּה, לְדַבֵּר אֶל-אַבְרָהָם; וְאַבְרָהָם, שָׁב לִמְקֹמוֹ. 33 And the LORD went His way, as soon as He had left off speaking to Abraham; and Abraham returned unto his place.
The next perek begins:
א וַיָּבֹאוּ שְׁנֵי הַמַּלְאָכִים סְדֹמָה, בָּעֶרֶב, וְלוֹט, יֹשֵׁב בְּשַׁעַר-סְדֹם; וַיַּרְא-לוֹט וַיָּקָם לִקְרָאתָם, וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ אַפַּיִם אָרְצָה. 1 And the two angels came to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom; and Lot saw them, and rose up to meet them; and he fell down on his face to the earth;
ב וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֶּה נָּא-אֲדֹנַי, סוּרוּ נָא אֶל-בֵּית עַבְדְּכֶם וְלִינוּ וְרַחֲצוּ רַגְלֵיכֶם, וְהִשְׁכַּמְתֶּם, וַהֲלַכְתֶּם לְדַרְכְּכֶם; וַיֹּאמְרוּ לֹּא, כִּי בָרְחוֹב נָלִין. 2 and he said: 'Behold now, my lords, turn aside, I pray you, into your servant's house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your way.' And they said: 'Nay; but we will abide in the broad place all night.'
At this point, there is no hiding who these individual are -- either no hiding from the reader, since this has already been revealed in the past perek, or perhaps even from Lot.

Note the difference in patach here in this adonai, meaning "lords," and the one with a kametz with Avraham uses. But also see Ibn Ezra on that other one, where he says to go with the manuscripts that have a kametz there. Throughout this narrative, there is a conscious parallel to the reception they received just earlier at Avraham's tent, but this is not the post to elaborate on that theme.

Rashi, of course, picks up on the shift to angels, and notes:
the…angels But elsewhere (18:2) Scripture calls them men! When the Shechinah was with them, it calls them men. Another explanation: In connection with Abraham, whose power was great, and the angels were as frequently with him as men, it calls them men, but in connection with Lot, it calls them angels. — [from Gen. Rabbah 52; Tan. Buber, Vayera 20]
A bit later, the angels tell Avraham that they were sent to destroy Sodom:
יב וַיֹּאמְרוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים אֶל-לוֹט, עֹד מִי-לְךָ פֹה--חָתָן וּבָנֶיךָ וּבְנֹתֶיךָ, וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר-לְךָ בָּעִיר: הוֹצֵא, מִן-הַמָּקוֹם. 12 And the men said unto Lot: 'Hast thou here any besides? son-in-law, and thy sons, and thy daughters, and whomsoever thou hast in the city; bring them out of the place;
יג כִּי-מַשְׁחִתִים אֲנַחְנוּ, אֶת-הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה: כִּי-גָדְלָה צַעֲקָתָם אֶת-פְּנֵי ה, וַיְשַׁלְּחֵנוּ ה לְשַׁחֲתָהּ. 13 for we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxed great before the LORD; and the LORD hath sent us to destroy it.'
Note the parallel to the erda na before, in terms of the cry waxing great before Hashem.

A bit later:

טז וַיִּתְמַהְמָהּ--וַיַּחֲזִיקוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים בְּיָדוֹ וּבְיַד-אִשְׁתּוֹ וּבְיַד שְׁתֵּי בְנֹתָיו, בְּחֶמְלַת יְהוָה עָלָיו; וַיֹּצִאֻהוּ וַיַּנִּחֻהוּ, מִחוּץ לָעִיר. 16 But he lingered; and the men laid hold upon his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters; the LORD being merciful unto him. And they brought him forth, and set him without the city.
יז וַיְהִי כְהוֹצִיאָם אֹתָם הַחוּצָה, וַיֹּאמֶר הִמָּלֵט עַל-נַפְשֶׁךָ--אַל-תַּבִּיט אַחֲרֶיךָ, וְאַל-תַּעֲמֹד בְּכָל-הַכִּכָּר: הָהָרָה הִמָּלֵט, פֶּן-תִּסָּפֶה. 17 And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said: 'Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the Plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be swept away.'
So two take him out, but one tells him to escape and not look behind.
יח וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹט, אֲלֵהֶם: אַל-נָא, אֲדֹנָי. 18 And Lot said unto them: 'Oh, not so, my lord;
יט הִנֵּה-נָא מָצָא עַבְדְּךָ חֵן, בְּעֵינֶיךָ, וַתַּגְדֵּל חַסְדְּךָ אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתָ עִמָּדִי, לְהַחֲיוֹת אֶת-נַפְשִׁי; וְאָנֹכִי, לֹא אוּכַל לְהִמָּלֵט הָהָרָה--פֶּן-תִּדְבָּקַנִי הָרָעָה, וָמַתִּי. 19 behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast shown unto me in saving my life; and I cannot escape to the mountain, lest the evil overtake me, and I die.
כ הִנֵּה-נָא הָעִיר הַזֹּאת קְרֹבָה, לָנוּס שָׁמָּה--וְהִוא מִצְעָר; אִמָּלְטָה נָּא שָׁמָּה, הֲלֹא מִצְעָר הִוא--וּתְחִי נַפְשִׁי. 20 Behold now, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one; oh, let me escape thither--is it not a little one?--and my soul shall live.'
כא וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו--הִנֵּה נָשָׂאתִי פָנֶיךָ, גַּם לַדָּבָר הַזֶּה: לְבִלְתִּי הָפְכִּי אֶת-הָעִיר, אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתָּ. 21 And he said unto him: 'See, I have accepted thee concerning this thing also, that I will not overthrow the city of which thou hast spoken.
כב מַהֵר, הִמָּלֵט שָׁמָּה, כִּי לֹא אוּכַל לַעֲשׂוֹת דָּבָר, עַד-בֹּאֲךָ שָׁמָּה; עַל-כֵּן קָרָא שֵׁם-הָעִיר, צוֹעַר. 22 Hasten thou, escape thither; for I cannot do any thing till thou be come thither.'--Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar.--
Note the sudden shift to the kametz in Adonai in pasuk 18. Yet he is speaking aleihem. This parallels the difficulty in Avraham's greeting the angels in the previous perek. Perhaps we could say the shift to kametz is a result of the pausal form, it being at the end of the word?

Or perhaps at this point Hashem rejoined his two angels?

At any rate, Lot here starts a debate with the angels, or with Hashem, parallel to Avraham's negotiation with Hashem in the previous perek. Except Lot is more successful, managing to actually save a city.

Note it is an individual who answers Lot, who speaks in the singular in the aforementioned pesukim.
כג הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ, יָצָא עַל-הָאָרֶץ; וְלוֹט, בָּא צֹעֲרָה. 23 The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot came unto Zoar.
כד וַיהוָה, הִמְטִיר עַל-סְדֹם וְעַל-עֲמֹרָה--גָּפְרִית וָאֵשׁ: מֵאֵת יְהוָה, מִן-הַשָּׁמָיִם. 24 Then the LORD caused to rain upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;
כה וַיַּהֲפֹךְ אֶת-הֶעָרִים הָאֵל, וְאֵת כָּל-הַכִּכָּר, וְאֵת כָּל-יֹשְׁבֵי הֶעָרִים, וְצֶמַח הָאֲדָמָה. 25 and He overthrow those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.
It is Hashem that does the actual destruction. This would seem to be on the same macro-level as earlier's erda na. Rashi notes the presumption of the angels before, saying that they would do it.

The next pasuk:
כו וַתַּבֵּט אִשְׁתּוֹ, מֵאַחֲרָיו; וַתְּהִי, נְצִיב מֶלַח. 26 But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.
would seem to be connected with the angel's earlier command not to look back.

Finally, I should make note of Ibn Ezra's comment early in the parsha. He cites an opinion that all three angels are supposed to be Hashem. He rejects this, noting that the three angels become two in the next story. Note that besides issues of corporeality of God, there is that extra "bonus" within that theory of a trinity of sorts, three who are one divine being. I think that Ibn Ezra's rejection is a good one.


Josh M. said...

Cute :-)

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Notwithstanding the excellent observations you make here (as always), the major problem for your theory is that even without the Rambam, any reader of Tanach would conclude that referring to God as a "man" is heresy - and yet, in the beginning of the narrative, "behold, three men were standing over him." Never do we find God described in this way.

joshwaxman said...

thank you for the compliments, and for the comments.

The thing is, in the narrative according to this theory, the description as "man" is resolved later on to be only in appearance. After all, they were angels, not men. Thus, the pasuk could be written from Avraham's perception at the time, rather than reflecting the actual nature.

Related to this issue of corporeality of God, BTW, is this earlier post about what Rashi does with a troublesome midrash in Sanhedrin which describes corporeality of God, and God's assuming human form. See here.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

R' Elchanan Samet has a very similar approach to this in the second installment of his iyunim on Parashat Vayera.

Anonymous said...

There are weaknesses with this argument, for example the simple reading of verse 22 is that "the men" means all three of them (as it did previously), and verse 21 seems to say that Hashem plans to visit Sedom - which would place Him with the two "men" and not with the third.

On the other hand, in addition to what you mentioned, "vayelech" in verse 33 is unusual for an encounter with God unless God is taking human form .

Overall I'm undecided as to which interpretation is correct. The theological difficulty of your argument may be assuaged by noting that angels of God often refer to themselves as God (as at the end of the akeidah). Presumably the implication is that they're repeating the speech for which God has sent them as messengers.

Josh M. said...

The Rashbam contains aspects of both the opinion rejected by Ibn Ezra and your explanation, stating that HaShem appeared to Avraham in the sense of "ki shmi b'kirbo", and that the references to HaShem speaking refer to the greatest of the angels. (I recall seeing this pshat earlier today, but I don't think it was inside).


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