Angels in Disguise by Max Shulman


The scene is as follows: Avraham is recuperating from the painful Berit Milah he has just undergone and is sitting at the opening of his tent “in the heat of the sun.” “VaYisa Einav VaYar VeHinei Sheloshah Anashim Nitzavim Alav,“ “He lifted his eyes, and behold there were three men standing in front of him” (BeReishit 18:2). Avraham runs to meet them, serve them food, and demonstrate his hospitality. Although the Pasuk uses the word “Anashim” – men, we know from Rashi that these three individuals were angels from Hashem. According to Rashi, one angel was sent to bring news to Sarah that she would have a baby, one to overturn Sodom, and one to heal Avraham, for we know that one angel does not perform two missions.

Two lessons emerge from this scene. Firstly, Avraham illustrates that we should always look for an opportunity to help others. Additionally, we see from the “disguised” angels that we never truly know whom we are helping and the effects that our help may have.

Regarding the first lesson, Avraham was standing in the opening of his tent, in his weakened state, looking for the opportunity to perform the Mitzvah of Hachnasat Orechim, welcoming guests. In fact, from Avraham’s perspective, it did not matter that these three Anashim were angels – as far as he was concerned, he was providing hospitality to three men. Often, we don’t know whom we help and are unsure whether they are righteous or not. As Avraham demonstrates, since we are all created in God’s image, we are all deserving of assistance and attention.

Regarding the second lesson, we may at any point in our lives encounter an “angel” that we recognize only as a “man.” If one were to do a survey and inquire of a child (or an adult), “What does an angel look like?” many might answer, “A white being, flying around, with wings and a halo.” But, in fact, the lesson here is that every one of us might encounter an angel. Ordinary people, all created in the image of God, are on a mission from God to live their lives for His sake. As such, we must all recognize the divinity within us all and act accordingly.


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