A Random Walk With Rashi – A Blast From the Biblical Past

Given our week off for Thanksgiving 2011, and before returning to the birth of Isaac, we will again go way, way back, to the fall of 2008 – just about the time these summaries first began, back … to Genesis 18:1.

As the lights go down on the scene of Abraham’s circumcision, the set is changed and they come up again on a new scene in Vayeira, meaning “He appeared”, which is the first word of our new, and fourth, parashah (beginning with Genesis 18:1 for those keeping score).

Our first verse is going to be a “two weeker” as the Rabbi forewarns us, since it is jam-packed with things to think about. Just look at it:

Hashem appeared to him,
in the plains of Mamre
while he was sitting
at the entrance of the tent
in the heat of the day.

Where does a self-respecting, card-carrying, brown-bagging, brei-frying Rashifarian even begin to tackle this one?

Lets start with who did G-d appear to, where, in what manner, and why? We assume that the “him” G-d appeared to was Abraham, since it was just the previous verse in which Abe (I feel we know him well enough by now) and the others were circumcised.

As for the manner in which G-d appeared, we tentatively decided that Abraham certainly became aware of G-d’s presence, if not actually seeing G-d. In fact, the thought of sight and being seen, of appearing and appearances, will be a continuing theme in weeks, months, and at our rate, probably years to come

Then again, in the very next verse (yes, we peeked again), Abraham looks up to see three men standing in front of him, whereupon he will rush to greet them. Might they be angels or manifestations of G-d, and thus G-d appears in them? As Stuart reminds us, the men could be just a coincidence, and three could be just a number, just as sometimes a cigar is indeed just a cigar (it seems that Stuart may still be on circumcision), but this is too eery. This is the scene that some consider a divine “visitation” after all, in which the number three is no coincidence at all.

There’s got be something brewing, otherwise, the verse may as well have been:

Knock, knock
Who’s there?
Hashem who?
Wrong question, knock knock

As for where, using our holy mapquest we zoom down somewhere into the plains of Mamre, essentially today’s Hebron, though the word translated here as ‘plains’ actually refers to oak trees (terebinths, in particular). Such trees have long served as landmarks in the middle east, both biblically and still today.

As we zoom in further we see Abraham, curiously sitting at the door of his tent, on a sweltering day. Why not inside, where it would be shadier and cooler? Was he waiting for something, or someone? And was he still recovering from his circumcision, or was this a considerable time after the fact?

As we divert our glance to Rashi we initially focus only on the first line above – “HASHEM APPEARED TO HIM”. Rashi takes this to mean that G-d stopped by to check on Abraham, three days after his circumcision, to see how he was recovering – three days typically being known as the most painful period following surgery. In fact, often in Torah we will see the significance of things occurring three days post other things.

And that’s where we pause. Join us next week for the second half of our two-weeker. One verse, two weeks, three men, a forefather, and 5,000 some years. It doesn’t get any better than this. We’ll see you then.

(Photo: Jeep Novak!)