This week we read Parashat VaYeira, which begins with Avraham sitting outside in the sun shortly after his circumcision. You might be wondering: Why is he outside on a hot summer day when he is still in pain? Rashi (BeReishit 18:1 s.v. Petach HaOhel) cites a Gemara (Bava Metzi’a 86b) in which Chazal explain that Avraham was waiting outside in case travelers passed by to perform the Mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim, welcoming guests. From Avraham’s example, we can learn the importance of Zerizut—rushing to do Mitzvot in any opportunities—and how we should love Mitzvot.
This is a beautiful lesson, but it’s not what I’m going to talk about in this Devar Torah. I’m not trying to underplay the importance of Zerizuit or Hachnasat Orchim, but I have a different message to share.
At the beginning of the Parashah, Avraham is sitting outside and Hashem appears to him, as the Pasuk says, “VaYeira Eilav Hashem BeEilonei Mamrei,” “Hashem appeared to [Avraham] in the plains of Mamrei” (BeReishit 18:1). Usually in Tanach, when Hashem appears to someone, He communicates with that person, but this isn’t the case in VaYeira. The next Pasuk abruptly shifts to Avraham seeing the three Mal’achim, angels, and inviting them to his tent. Why does the Torah record that Hashem appears to Avraham but not record what Hashem says to him?
There are two ways to understand Hashem appearing to Avraham in VaYeira with no recorded conversation. It could be that there is a conversation between Avraham Avinu and Hashem, but it isn’t recorded because it isn’t Nitzrechah LeDorot—applicable to future generations. Or it could be that Hashem never communicates with Avraham at all. Even if you believe that a conversation occurs between Avraham Avinu and Hashem that isn’t recorded, the fact that the Torah records Hashem appearing to Avraham but does not record the conversation shows that the appearance alone must be significant. Regardless of how you perceive the incident, the mere presence of Hashem before Avraham must be more important than any conversation they may have had.
Now that we’ve settled on the appearance of Hashem before Avraham being the important factor, we need to understand why it is important. To accomplish this, we need to look at the text to understand why Hashem appears to Avraham at this point.
VaYeira resumes the story of the preceding Parashat Lech Lecha after Avraham circumcises himself and his family. Rav Elie Munk, in his work Kol HaTorah, notes the juxtaposition and explains that immediately after Avraham Avinu gets a Brit Milah, he fears it will alienate him from others and force him to live in isolation. In Parashat VaYeira, Hashem appears to Avraham to let him know that even if the Brit Milah alienates him from others, it is bringing him closer to HaKadosh Baruch Hu, and that is all that matters.
Ramban (18:1 s.v. BeEilonei Mamrei) adopts the position that Hashem and Avraham do not have engage in conversation but that Avraham benefits from the presence of Hashem. Building on Rav Elie Munk’s words, we can explain that the Ramban means that Hashem doesn’t have anything urgent to communicate to Avraham but that Avraham has the Zechut of being in relationship with Hashem where Hashem’s presence is in his home post-Brit Milah. I’d like to suggest a radical view that maybe Hashem never specifically visits Avraham at all, because Hashem is everywhere already. However, because of his Brit Milah, Avraham is more in tune with God’s presence in his everyday life. Stop to think about it: It’s unbelievable for a person to feel Hashem’s presence vividly in his mundane life. This is something everyone can aspire to.
Rav Elie Munk takes things a step further and adds that alongside Avraham’s new close relationship with Hashem is an increased responsibility towards his fellow man as “Av Hamon Goyim,” “father of many nations” (17:5). This could explain why we immediately see Avraham exercising this responsibility by performing Hachnasat Orchim to “travelers” (he doesn’t know they are Mal’achim). Additionally the interaction with the traveling Mal’achim demonstrates to Avraham that his close relationship to Hashem will enrich his life, not force him into isolation.
Now everything comes full circle. We began with Rashi’s statement about Avraham performing Hachnasat Orchim after his Brit Milah, and I said that we can learn from Avraham the importance of Zereizut, rushing to fulfill Mitzvot at any opportunity, and the importance of loving Mitzvot. But it’s more than that. I also mentioned that Avraham is worried about his Brit Milah alienating him from others and is reassured by Hashem that his Brit Milah just brings him closer to Hashem. When Hashem appears to Avraham Avinu, Avraham realizes that even though Mitzvot might alienate him from others, they bring him closer to Hashem. But at the same time, Avraham embraces the Mitzvot, as evidenced by his Zerizut, and he applies them to connect to his fellow man, as evidenced by his Hachnasat Orchim.
It’s incredible what you can learn from one Pasuk. Even though Brit Milah is acceptable in America, our generation has its own “Brit Milah” Mitzvah that alienates us from others. No matter where we go in life, we will have experiences where we might feel pressured by external influences to compromise a seemingly minor Mitzvah that alienates us. But we need to recognize that these Mitzvot only bring us closer to Hashem, to embrace them wholeheartedly like Avraham, and to bridge our relationship in an appropriate way with our fellow man.
1] It is possible to claim, as Rambam does (Moreh Nevuchim 2:42), that Hashem appears to Avraham through the Mal’achim or that the interaction with the Mal’achim is all part of a Nevu’ah from Hashem. However, according to a literal reading, Hashem Himself appears to Avraham.
 Rav Conterman understands in the tradition of Rav Ya’akov Emden (Sidur Ya’avetz) that the words “Shirat Rash,” “The song of a poor one,” are an acronym to reference the author, whom he takes to be “Rav Shmuel,” i.e. the Rashbam. Most commentators attribute the poem to Rav Yehudah HeChasid.