Vayeira

Vayeira opens with Avraham being visited by three men/angels, bearing wonderful news of Sarah’s impending pregnancy.

After Avraham feeds them, the visitors ask (18:9):
וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו אַיֵּה שָׂרָה אִשְׁתֶּךָ

As written in the Torah, there are three nekudos on top of the word אֵלָיו ; one on the Alef, the Yud and the Vav.

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These three dotted letters together spell Ayo, meaning, “Where is he?” Rashi explains that the angels asked two questions; one to Avraham asking the whereabouts of Sarah, and one to Sarah asking the whereabouts of Avraham. (Rashi quotes Breishis Rabba, which says that these questions teach us the trait of inquiring about one’s hosts. To a man one should ask, “How is your wife?” and to a woman, “How is your husband?”)

The Kli Yakar, however, asked a fairly obvious question – why did the angels have to inquire about Avraham and Sarah’s locations? (A) The angles knew each of Avraham and Sarah’s locations (seeing as how they were messengers of Hashem), and (B) the text even tells us in the immediately preceding passuk, that Avraham was standing over them!

וְהוּא עֹמֵד עֲלֵיהֶם תַּחַת הָעֵץ
The Kli Yakar explains that the angels were not asking about the physical whereabouts of Sarah or Avraham. They were asking where Avraham and Sarah were “holding,” so to speak; what madreigah were they on and for what reason did they merit to have the miracle of bearing a child at such a old age?

Avraham answers – בָאֹהֶל - allegorically speaking, ‘we are the recipients of this miracle on the merit of the tent.’

What was special about their tent?
Chazal explain that Sarah always maintained the highest level of modesty, even in their tent. So Avraham answers, ‘we merited this miracle because of the modest way in which Sarah conducts herself in the tent.’ As Gemara Megilla 10b says:
כי הא דא”ר שמואל בר נחמני אמר רבי יונתן:כל כלה שהיא צנועה בבית חמיה זוכה ויוצאין ממנה מלכים ונביאים

On the other side of the same coin, Avraham kept their tent open to guests, travelers, and those wanting to learn more about Hashem. So Sarah, answers, ‘we merited this miracle because of the chessed and the kindness with which Avraham conducts himself in the tent.’

A few lessons highlighted here, is that a couple can be so successful when each spouse recognizes the other’s strengths, attributing the blessings in their lives to the greatness of the other; and, that the home (ohel) and the manner in which it functions, sets the tone for the family living in it.

One final point I would like to make is to stress not only Sarah’s modesty, but also Avraham’s: In the first five verses of Vayeira, there is no reference to Avraham’s name, only being referred to in the anonymous 3rd person:

וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו ה’ בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל כְּחֹם הַיּוֹם
וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו  וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה שְׁלֹשָׁה אֲנָשִׁים נִצָּבִים עָלָיו וַיַּרְא וַיָּרָץ לִקְרָאתָם מִפֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ אָרְצָה

The text uses Avraham’s name for the first time to tell us that “Avraham hurried to the tent to Sarah…and to the cattle ran Avraham” (18:6-7).

…וַיְמַהֵר אַבְרָהָם הָאֹהֱלָה אֶל שָׂרָה
וְאֶל-הַבָּקָר רָץ אַבְרָהָם

When Avraham comes back to serve his guests and stand by them, the text reverts to the 3rd person:

וְהוּא עֹמֵד עֲלֵיהֶם תַּחַת הָעֵץ

Avraham just received this new name in Parshas Lech Lecha, as the Av Hamon Goyim – a tremendous honor. Yet the Torah spares us the usage of the name when angels are visiting him, but includes it to talk about Avraham running to the cattle?!

Perhaps an explanation (based in part on an idea from Rav Nison Alpert ztl) is that Avraham did not think the angels were visiting him because he was anyone so special. He was sitting outside in the heat, welcoming any traveler who might be passing by. But when it came time to make a kiddush Hashem and prepare for his guests, as an agent of Hashem, then he did so with the zeal and responsibility as Avraham – Av Hamon Goyim. Avraham could not control who came to the opening of his tent. Whoever came – perhaps he thought – did so because Hashem sent them, having nothing to do with Avraham’s greatness; but what he could control, is how he acted as their humble, and privileged host. If Hashem was calling upon him to serve and enlighten others, then Avraham’s actions had to be taken as the agent of Hashem.

Perhaps we can also say that Avraham’s excitement and haste to serve his guests, is somehow connected to the signs given to Eliezer in the next parsha, upon finding Rivka as a wife for Yitzchak. There is a parallel that seems to exist between the two stories – both involve hurrying to serve foreigners, and the language employed in both is virtually identical:

Avraham, in 18:6-7:
וַיְמַהֵר אַבְרָהָם הָאֹהֱלָה אֶל שָׂרָה
וְאֶל-הַבָּקָר רָץ אַבְרָהָם

Rivkah in 24:20:
וַתְּמַהֵר וַתְּעַר כַּדָּהּ אֶל-הַשֹּׁקֶת וַתָּרָץ עוֹד אֶל הַבְּאֵר לִשְׁאֹב וַתִּשְׁאַב לְכָל גְּמַלָּיו

Together, on account of their collective middot, Avraham and Sarah merited a miraculous birth, a tzaddik of a son, and a tzaddeikes of a daughter-in-law.

 

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