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S.A.L.T. - Monday

Rav David Silverberg

          We read in Parashat Vayeira of the three angels who appeared to Avraham under the guise of weary travelers.  Avraham immediately invited them to rest near his tent, and served them a large meal.  During the meal, one of the angels informed Avraham that his wife, Sara, would soon miraculously conceive and deliver a boy, after many decades of infertility.

          The Midrash (Shemot Rabba 28:1) draws an intriguing connection between this incident and Moshe’s experiences when he ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, stating:

At that time, the ministering angels sought to harm Moshe.  The Almighty made the appearance of Moshe’s face resemble Avraham.  The Almighty said to them, “Are you not embarrassed in his presence?  Is this not the one to whom you descended, and in whose home you ate?” 

The Almighty said to Moshe, “The Torah was given to you only in the merit of Avraham.”

(A different, and more famous, version of the conflict that arose between Moshe and the angels at the time of Matan Torah appears in Masekhet Shabbat, 88b.)

What might be the significance of this depiction of the angels’ harsh treatment of Moshe in the heavens, and of God’s response, recalling Avraham’s hospitality?

          Rav Yerachmiel Yisrael Yitzchak Danziger of Alexander, in Yismach Yisrael, cites his father, Rav Yechiel Danziger (founding Rebbe of Alexander), as explaining that the Midrash here seeks to contrast the angels’ hostility to their “visitor” with Avraham’s generous welcoming of his visitors.  When the angels descended to the earth from the heavens and appeared to Avraham, he welcomed them graciously; but when a human being ascended to the heavens, the heavenly beings treated him as an unwanted intruder, and assaulted him.  Moshe’s ascent to the heavens signifies the reverse situation of the angels’ visit to Avraham, as a human now arrived in the heavens, as opposed to angels arriving in our world.  The angels were shown that whereas they were treated with graciousness and kindness when they ventured into the human domain, they were antagonistic to a human who ventured into their heavenly domain.

This might perhaps be the Midrash’s intent in concluding, “The Torah was given to you only in the merit of Avraham.”  The Torah, a “heavenly” asset, was given to us, earthly beings, signifying the bridging of these two distant domains.  We received the Torah only because of the quality embodied by Avraham – the quality of welcoming people from drastically different “domains.”  It is only because of the importance of being welcoming and gracious to those who are different that it was possible for God to invite us human beings to the “heavens” through the study and observance of the Torah.  Avraham represented this quality through his extending kindness to all people, from all walks of life, no matter how different they were from him.  The Midrash thus teaches that our right to the heavenly Torah, to be welcomed in the heavens, so-to-speak, hinges on our willingness to bridge the gaps between us and other people, to follow the example set for us by Avraham, of extending loving kindness even to those from other “domains.”



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