Our Torah portion begins with Abraham at the door of his tent, about to encounter three “men,” or strangers. The question is, who are these visitors, are they human or angelic, and what is their real purpose in stopping by at Abraham’s desert home?
This portion and the following two with deal with the crux of Abraham and Sarah’s lives. Last week we delved into the unique relationship or “b’rit” that Abraham established with the Almighty. We learned of the crucial promises that God makes to Abraham, giving him the promise that he and his wife will indeed bring forth a son. Our Torah saga this Shabbat focuses on Abraham’s encounter with these messengers, who according to the Talmud, are really angels in human form. They have arrived to bring a healing message to Abraham, and also bring good tidings that Sarah will surely give birth in the year ahead. This encounter with the three messengers allows us to discuss the presence of angels in the Bible, and in later Jewish writings. Additionally, we have two other famous stories in these chapters. First is the battle and dialogue that explains the situation of Sodom and Gomorrah. The second classic story is the test of faith visited upon Abraham and his son Isaac. This is known as the “binding” of Isaac. In later religious literature, this saga of the test on Mt. Moriah is seen as the sacrifice of Isaac, but the word “sacrifice” is an incorrect description of this extraordinary episode.