Vayeira opens with Avraham being visited by three men/angels, bearing wonderful news of Sarah’s impending pregnancy.
As written in the Torah, there are three nekudos on top of the word אֵלָיו ; one on the Alef, the Yud and the Vav.
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!
Avraham answers – בָאֹהֶל – allegorically speaking, ‘we are the recipients of this miracle on the merit of the tent.’
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:
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).
When Avraham comes back to serve his guests and stand by them, the text reverts to the 3rd person:
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:
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.
דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם וְעָשׂוּ לָהֶם צִיצִת עַל כַּנְפֵי בִגְדֵיהֶם לְדֹרֹתָם וְנָתְנוּ עַל צִיצִת הַכָּנָף פְּתִיל תְּכֵלֶת
Each corner of our garment should include a thread of techeiles.
Chazal teach us that this thread serves as an inspirational reminder. The color of techeiles resembles the color of the sea floor, the color of the sea floor is similar to the color of shamayim, and the color of the shamayim is similar to the color of Hashem’s throne of glory – the Kisei HaKavod. By gazing at the techeiles thread we begin a process that ends in being reminded of Hashem’s throne of glory.
Rashi in Bava Metzia 61b, notes that there are two ways to produce the color/appearance of techeiles. The halachically correct way is to extract the dye from a sea creature called the Chilazon. According to Menachos 44a, this Chilazon is a rare sea creature that appears on land only once in 70 years. Because the Chilazon emerges so infrequently, the dye produced from the Chilazon is less accessible and very expensive.
The halachically invalid way of producing the desired color is through an extract of the indigo plant. Since the indigo plant is commonly found, the dye produced from it is relatively inexpensive. The Gemara warns that Hashem will punish anyone who hangs wool dyed with the extract of the indigo on his garment claiming that he possesses techeiles.
Rav Aharon Lewin ztl, asks the following question:
If chazal teach us that the reason we have a thread of techeiles is so that we gaze at its color and be inspired to remember Hashem’s throne, what difference does it make as to the origin of this color? As long as we have the correct color, it will remind us of Hashem’s throne. The end result from either approach is the same!
The answer, of course, is that there are 2 ways to produce the color of techeiles: the hard way and the easy way.
The hard way involves waiting up to 70 years for the chilazon to appear, and carefully extracting a rare dye. The easy way is to obtain the color from a commonly found vegetable plant.
When we perform a mitzvah commanded to us by Hashem, it is as if we are appearing before the throne of Hashem and presenting Him with a gift. When one performs a mitzvah without any thought or preparation, simply to check a box, it is as if he took a shortcut to appear before Hashem; he has come before Hashem with indigo. However, when one dedicates the time and invests the necessary preparation to perform a mitzvah fully and correctly, it is if he took a long, arduous road to come before Hashem; he has come before Hashem with techeiles.
When we look at the techeiles we are reminded not just of our destination to Hashem’s throne but of the journey as well. Just as one waits with great anticipation for 70 years for the chilazon to appear and appreciates its great value, likewise we are reminded that we must approach the performance of mitzvos with anticipation and appreciate what it means to have an opportunity to perform a mitzvah, and in its proper fashion.
The difference between techeiles and indigo teaches us that it is not only the destination that counts but the journey as well.
A quick idea on Yehoshua’s name change: The midrash says that when Hashem changed Sarai’s name to Sarah, He allocated the displaced yud for Yehoshua’s name, from Hoshea. Rav Nison Alpert notes that Sarah paved a very important path for Yehoshua. Sarah had the unequivocal belief that Eretz Yisrael – in its entirety – belongs to the children of Avraham and Yitzchak. In Breishis 21:10 she says:
גָּרֵשׁ הָאָמָה הַזֹּאת וְאֶת-בְּנָהּ כִּי לֹא יִירַשׁ בֶּן-הָאָמָה הַזֹּאת עִם-בְּנִי עִם-יִצְחָק
Sarah was saying that Yishmael, the son of Haggar, has no share in the inheritance of her son Yitzchak. Yishmael, nor any descendant of his has a portion in Eretz Yisrael. With great passion, Sarah conveyed this message to Avraham, and Hashem backed it up by saying:
כֹּל אֲשֶׁר תֹּאמַר אֵלֶיךָ שָׂרָה שְׁמַע בְּקֹלָהּ
Yehoshua, who was chosen by Hashem to lead Bnei Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael and conquer the land, receives part of his name from Sarah, precisely because of her conviction on this matter. Equipped with a “piece” of Sarah, so to speak, Yehoshua boldly leads Bnei Yisrael into the Promised Land, conquering every corner of the land. B’ezras Hashem, hopefully the day when all of Eretz Yisrael is peacefully in our hands, is rapidly approaching.