Parashat Vayera / פרשת וַיֵּרָא

א וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו ה, בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא; וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב פֶּתַח-הָאֹהֶל, כְּחֹם הַיּוֹם And the LORD appeared unto him by the terebinths of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;

וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו ה — Hashem appears to Avraham. On a peshat level, this conversation is not interrupted by the visit of the three men. Rather, it is the visit of the three men. However, this leads to a possibly uncomfortable theological conclusion about whether God is corporeal or, to a lesser degree, can manifest in what appears to be human form. Chazal interpret these pesukim otherwise, in which Hashem first visits, is interrupted by the arrival of the three men, and resumes his conversation with Avraham after the three angels leave. This is most likely understood by them not merely as derash but peshat as well, just as the Rishonim understood it.

Shadal says וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו ה, via his angels, as it continues to explain. And he refers us to Rashbam and Nisivot Hashalom.

וירא אליו ה’ – האיך?
שבאו אליו שלשה אנשים שהיו מלאכים, שבהרבה מקומות כשנראה המלאך קוראו בלשון שכינה, כדכתיב: כי שמי בקרבו שלוחו כמותו.
וכן: וירא מלאך ה’ אליו בלבת אש מתוך הסנה. וכתוב שם: וירא ה’ כי סר לראות.

One could argue with Rashbam’s presentation, and say that only two were malachim and the third, central one, was Hashem.

Ibn Ezra attacks Rashbam’s position, pointing out that only two malachim arrived at Sodom:

הנה קצת אמרו, כי השם ג’ אנשים הוא אחד והוא ג’ ולא יתפרדו. והנה שכחו ויבאו שני המלאכים סדומה

I agree. Not all three were Hashem. Two were malachim, who accompanied Hashem, and one was some deeper manifestation of Hashem’s presence.

(However, to answer on behalf of those who would have all thee as a manifestation of Hashem, we can point out that
(a) any angel is a manifestation of Hashem, and angels can surely split up — the later ‘Hashem said’ is the agent speaking in his Master’s name.
(b) any angel can be said to be a manifestation of Hashem, and that manifestation can be in the image of three or in the image of two, as appropriate.)

בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא — This is in Chevron. See this pasuk:

בראשית פרק יג
פסוק י”ח: וַיֶּאֱהַל אַבְרָם, וַיָּבֹא וַיֵּשֶׁב בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא–אֲשֶׁר בְּחֶבְרוֹן; וַיִּבֶן-שָׁם מִזְבֵּחַ, לַה.
which immediately preceded the first destruction of Sodom, at the hands of man.

וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב פֶּתַח-הָאֹהֶל — the midrash has it that he was looking for guests, as a way of highlighting Avraham’s hospitality, which certainly is stressed elsewhere in the narrative. As peshat, it introduces the lifting up of his eyes such that he sees guests in a distance.

One entrance to the tent, not four, on the level of peshat.

כְּחֹם הַיּוֹם —
See II Shmuel 4:5:
ה וַיֵּלְכוּ בְּנֵי-רִמּוֹן הַבְּאֵרֹתִי, רֵכָב וּבַעֲנָה, וַיָּבֹאוּ כְּחֹם הַיּוֹם, אֶל-בֵּית אִישׁ בֹּשֶׁת; וְהוּא שֹׁכֵב, אֵת מִשְׁכַּב הַצָּהֳרָיִם. 5 And the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, Rechab and Baanah, went, and came about the heat of the day to the house of Ish-bosheth, as he took his rest at noon.

This demonstrates that כְּחֹם הַיּוֹם means about the noon. Shadal says that this is why Avraham detained the malachim, since it was time to eat lunch and difficult to travel.

Perhaps this is to show that Avraham was dozing, and this entire exchange happened as a vision.

Next pasuk:
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,

וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו — thus, in the distance.

וַיַּרְא — matching וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו. This is the fulfillment and details of the preceding pasuk.

שְׁלֹשָׁה אֲנָשִׁים — is the Torah lying to us, by calling them men? At the very least, we know that later they are malachim. And we might want to even say that one, or all of them is Hashem!

We can answer that just like dibra Torah kilshon bnei Adam, in the sense that the Torah speaks in accordance with the sometimes flawed understanding of the world, here too, also, since Avraham saw them as men, the Torah described them according to that perception. And that is not a falsehood.

According to Ralbag, the three men were neviim, namely Shem, Ever, and one other prophet. And that they are later called malachim is because prophets are messengers, or malachim, of Hashem. Indeed, Ralbag in general understands malachim to mean human prophets. If so, the Torah is explicit here that these were men.

וַיַּרְא — although it already said this word above, the word is repeated. First, establish what he saw, at length, and then, describe his reaction to the right. Rashi takes the second instance to denote hospitality. Midrash Rabba takes one to refer to the angels and one to refer to the Shechina.

וַיָּרָץ לִקְרָאתָם מִפֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל — zerizut for the hospitality.

Next pasuk:
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.

אֲדֹנָי — Ramban writes:

אדני אם נא מצאתי חן בעיניך – מצינו אותו בספרים קמוץ. והנה קראם בשם רבם באל”ף דל”ת, כי הכיר בהם שהם מלאכי עליון כאשר יקראו אלוהים ואלים ולכן השתחוה להם ארצה:

That is, we find a kametz under the nun. With a chirik, adoni, it should mean “my master”. With a patach, it should mean “my masters”. With a kametz, it should mean Hashem.

Ramban explains that Avraham knew at this early stage that these were angels, and therefore referred to them by the name of their master, Hashem. One must grapple with the singular of תַעֲבֹר. Ramban understands this as distributive, that he addressed every one of them as the name of their master.

Shadal claims that Avraham actually said Adoni, with a chirik (and was thus singular), but this was made kodesh based on what would eventually come out.

Rashi mentions the dual interpretations of this. Either he addressed the gadol of the malachim (and with a kametz will still be appropriate); or else, he addressed Hashem. Recall that first, Hashem appeared, and separately, these men/angels appeared. Thus, Avraham is saying to Hashem, please don’t leave, but let me first take care of this mitzvah of hachnasas orechim.

There is a nice thought associated with this interpretation in Shabbat 127a, in terms of balancing bein adam laMakom and bein adam lachaveiro:
Rab Judah said in Rab’s name: Hospitality to wayfarers is greater than welcoming the presence of the Shechinah, for it is written, And he said, My lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, etc.15 R. Eleazar said: Come and observe how the conduct of the Holy One, blessed be He, is not like that of mortals. The conduct of mortals [is such that] an inferior person cannot say to a great[er] man, Wait for me until I come to you; whereas in the case of the Holy One, blessed be He, it is written, and he said, My Lord, if now I have found, etc.
Someone asked me that we know that hospitality is greater than welcoming the presence of the Shechina, based on this gemara, but how did Avraham know? The answer is that Avraham didn’t know from a text, but intuited how one should act with Hashem. While some could say that Avraham knew the gemara in Shabbos because he knew all the Torah, we could say like the Rashba explained (and as we see in a midrash as well) when endorsing this idea, that Avraham intuited in his heart and kidneys how to act, even before the Torah was given.

Related to this is the story of the Chafetz Chaim (author of Mishneh Berurah) who once skipped Shalom Aleichem, and only sand it after kiddush and hamotzi. When questioned as to the propriety of this, he explained that in this case, his poor guests were very hungry, but the malachim who accompanied him home from shul were malachim, who were not hungry, and could wait a bit.

See Minchas Shai about this being kodesh vs. chol.

based on the gemara in Shevuot 35b which reads:
כל שמות האמורים בתורה באברהם קדש חוץ מזה שהוא חול שנאמר (בראשית יח) ויאמר יי’ אם נא מצאתי חן בעיניך חנינא בן אחי רבי יהושע ורבי אלעזר בן עזריה משום רבי אלעזר המודעי אמרו אף זה קדש
(Note the funny emendation of the pasuk in the quotation in the gemara.)

I wonder if it actually worked in the opposite direction, namely that there was an argument of whether it was Adonay as kodesh or chol among Chazal (with little to no difference in pronunciation between them, as patach vs. kametz are quite close in pronunciation, perhaps a slightly longer vowel), and given all these Rabbinic sources fixing it as kodesh, it was set with a kametz in accordance with this midrashic interpretation. If so, no need for concern with the nikkud when dealing with peshat.

Because of the difficulty of the plural and singular in this pasuk, the Samaritans falsified their Torah. They emended it to read:

Samaritan text on the left. Note how they make three words in this pasuk plural. (Shadal points this out.)

אִם-נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ — as if he is asking a favor, even as he offers them hospitality.

נָא — Rashi often makes the midrashic statement that ain na ele leshon bakasha. Na in Biblical Hebrew apparently always mean “now”, and means “please” only in Rabbinic Hebrew. Indeed, Onkelos consistently renders it ke’an, which is Aramaic for “now”:
יח,ג וַיֹּאמַר: אֲדֹנָי, אִם-נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ–אַל-נָא תַעֲבֹר, מֵעַל עַבְדֶּךָ. וַאֲמַר: יְיָ, אִם כְּעַן אַשְׁכַּחִית רַחֲמִין קֳדָמָךְ–לָא כְּעַן תִּעְבַּר, מֵעַל עַבְדָּךְ.
Next pasuk:
ד יֻקַּח-נָא מְעַט-מַיִם, וְרַחֲצוּ רַגְלֵיכֶם; וְהִשָּׁעֲנוּ, תַּחַת הָעֵץ. 4 Let now a little water be fetched, and wash your feet, and recline yourselves under the tree.

יֻקַּח-נָא — the passive, let it be fetched. Rashi cites a midrash which connects this to the water that the Israelites receive via a shaliach. Baal HaTurim then draws a connection based on gematria, to reinforce this existing connection.

מְעַט-מַיִם — again minimizing his actions. Emor meat ve’aseh harbei, as action of tzaddikim (consider the stark contrast to what he actually does) as well as a polite mode of expression.

וְרַחֲצוּ רַגְלֵיכֶם — the only other place this occurs is by Lot meeting these malachim. We can contrast the two. Rashi contrasts these as follows:

and bathe your feet: He thought that they were Arabs, who prostrate themselves to the dust of their feet, and he was strict not to allow any idolatry into his house. But Lot, who was not strict, mentioned lodging before washing, as it is said (below 19:2): “and lodge and bathe your feet.” – [from Gen. Rabbah 54:4]
ורחצו רגליכם: כסבור שהם ערביים שמשתחוים לאבק רגליהם והקפיד שלא להכניס עבודה זרה לביתו. אבל לוט שלא הקפיד, הקדים לינה לרחיצה, שנאמר (יט ב) ולינו ורחצו רגליכם:

However, as Rashbam notes, by Lot it was evening, while here, it was earlier in the day, which is why lodging (or sleeping) was not relevant. Perhaps we can compare, though, with וְהִשָּׁעֲנוּ תַּחַת הָעֵץ. Note also that just as by Avraham, lina was not relevant, by Lot, lina was not just relevant but the most important thing to take care of, because of nightfall as well as because of the evil nature of the Sodomites.

וְהִשָּׁעֲנוּ תַּחַת הָעֵץ — thus, providing them with shade from the חֹם הַיּוֹם.

Rav Chaim Kanievsky notes in Taama deKra that according to a midrash, this occurred on Succot. If so, since Avraham Avinu kept the entire Torah, it must be that this tree was talush, detached from the ground, and it means that he built a succah, under which they sat. And even though travelers are exempt, if there is one available without difficulty, one is obligated in Succah. And this is the meaning of the pasuk כִּי-עַל-כֵּן עֲבַרְתֶּם עַל-עַבְדְּכֶם. This cute vort fits in with Rav Kanievsky’s general approach to the avos keeping the Torah. But it is obviously farfetched