Angelic Teachers

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Vayeira
Angelic Teachers

On the third day after his circumcision, Avraham sat outside his tent waiting for passersby so that he could be hospitable towards them. However, nobody dared venture outside because Hashem had taken the sun out of its container. This means that there was a such an intense heatwave that people preferred to stay indoors.

When Hashem saw that Avraham was experiencing more pain from the lack of guests than from the wound of his circumcision, He sent angels, disguised as men, to Avraham so that he could welcome them into his home and serve them (Rashi Vayeira 18:1, citing Baba Metzia, chap. 7, "Hasocher Es Hapoalim", pg. 86b, Rebbi Chama b'Rebbi Chanina).

This begs us to ask a question. Hashem knew from the start that Avraham would be more pained by the lack of guests than by his wound. As such, why did God bother taking the sun out of its encasing to begin with? Why not allow for a pleasant day which would generate passersby with whom Avraham could perform the mitzvah of hospitality? Why was there a need to be hospitable with angels if he could have been hospitable with people?

The story continues. Avraham saw three "men" standing over him. One of them was the angel Michael whose mission it was to inform Sarah that she would bear a son in a years time. The second one was the angel Gavriel whose assignment it was to destroy Sedom. The third one was the angel Refael whose job it was to heal Avraham (Rashi, Vayeira 18:2, citing Baba Metzia ibid).

It's understandable why Michael and Refael went to Avraham's home. That's where Avraham and Sarah were. One needed a healing and the other was to be told about her becoming a mother. But, Gavriel's task was to destroy Sedom. There was apparently no reason for Gavriel to show up at Avraham's home. There was nothing for Gavriel to accomplish there. So, why did Gavriel go to Avraham? Gavriel should have first appeared when the angels went to Sedom.

The Chasam Sofer (Toras Moshe; Derashos, vol. 1, pg. 17) says that the reason why Hashem took the sun out of its container was because Hashem was hinting to Avraham that He was going to do the same thing in the future. At the End of Days, Hashem will remove the sun from its encasing again. That day will burn like an oven (Malachi 3:19). The intense heat will cause all wicked people to perish (Nedarim, chap. 1, "Kol Kinui", pg. 8b, Reish Lakish).

But, when the sun gets taken out of its box, not only will there be an increase of heat, there will also be an increase of light. This increase of light does not only refer to an increase of physical light, but it demonstrates that there will also be an increase of spiritual light. Meaning, the light of Torah will fill the world.

The righteous ones from the nations, together with the Jewish people, will be so infused with Torah knowledge, that we will know all of it completely. We will be so thoroughly informed of Torah that we will no longer need teach each other because everybody will be completely proficient in it (Yirmiyahu 31:32-33).

This sounds great. But, there will be just one downside to this new condition. Who will we teach Torah to? Jews have always craved sharing and teaching others. Besides, it's a mitzvah to teach others Torah. How will we be able to fulfil our obligation of teaching Torah if everybody already knows everything?

The Chasam Sofer says that Hashem will send us angels so that we will be able to teach them Torah. The Midrash (Tanchumah, Parshas Balak 23:23, siman 14) supports this idea by saying that, in the future, we will be seated in a circle. Hashem will be in the center and He will teach us Torah. The angels will be behind a partition. They won't be able to hear what God is teaching. They will tap us on the shoulders and ask, "What's Hashem saying now?" It is then that we will teach the angels what God is saying.

All of this was foretold to Avraham in the opening storyline of this week's parsha. By taking the sun out of its container, Hashem hinted that he would do the same thing in the future. The absence of guests indicated that, in the future, people would not come to each other to learn Torah, because the wicked would perish and everybody else would be completely versed in it already.

The pain that Avraham experienced at the lack of guests meant that, in the future, we would all feel the pain at having nobody to teach Torah to. By sending angels to Avraham, Hashem conveyed that, in the future, He would send us angels.

When Avraham had guests, he was most certainly concerned with their well-being. That's why he fed them and took care of them. But, Avraham was not only concerned about their physical well-being, he was also concerned about their spiritual well-being. Avraham would use his table as a platform with which to introduce people to monotheism. Avraham would teach them about Torah and its values. In this case, Avraham wound up teaching the angels Torah.

This whole story was a precursor, foretelling events that will take place at the End of Days. After all, "Ma'aseh Avos Siman Labanim" (what happened to the Patriarchs is a sign for their descendants; see Tanchumah, Parshas Lech Lecha, siman 9, Rebbi Yehoshuah d'Sichnin). This episode with Avraham, set the pace and paved the way for what was going to transpire with his descendants. Just as Avraham taught Torah to the angels, the Jewish people will also teach Torah to the angels.

One difficulty with all of this is, "How could Avraham possibly have taught the angels Torah?" Don't angels already know the entirety of Torah? Before a child is born, an angel teaches it the entire Torah (Nidah, chap. 3, "Hamapeles Chatichah", pg. 30b, Rebbi Samlai). In order to teach the entire Torah, one must know the entire Torah. What could Avraham, or us for that matter, possibly teach an angel?

Rebbi Tzadok Hakohen (Rabinowitz from Lublin, Poland, 1823-1900, in Machshavos Charutz, pg. 86a) says that angels are not accustomed to doing acts of chesed (kindness) with each other. Angels don't visit each other in hospitals because there is no illness in the angelic realm. Angels don't have tzedakah boxes because there is no poverty, or economy for that matter, in Heaven. Angels don't invite other angels into their homes for meals because they don't eat and they don't live in sheltered dwellings. In other words, angels are independent. They are self-sufficient.

The Torah that Avraham taught the angels was Toras Chesed (the teachings about kindness). Avraham introduced them to a whole new dimension of Torah applicability.

Avraham exuded so much chesed, that after spending just one meal with him, the angels were filled and bursting with chesed. So much so, that when they went to Sedom, their chesed energy rubbed off on Lot. Sedom was the antithesis of Avraham. Sedom opposed inviting guests over. They made laws forbidding kindness and charity. Hospitality was punishable by death.

These laws were not born in a vacuum. There was a philosophy behind them. Inviting a stranger into the home could potentially be dangerous to the host, his wife and their children. Therefore, inviting guests became forbidden. Giving money to people on the streets only helped encourage them to remain on welfare. Instead of taking handouts, they should get off their chairs and get a job. Therefore, giving tzedakah was against the law. How interesting it is that these thoughts also permeate our society. There may even be truth to them, but, formulating laws which forbid helping other people in need is an act of cruelty.

This was not Avraham's position. Avraham gave freely without asking questions. Avraham's philosophy was that if somebody asks for your help, how could you turn him down? Maybe this person is truly desperate. It's not our job to judge. That's God's job. It's our job to give. Of course, we must protect ourselves, but, unbridled giving breeds unity and can bring a person closer to Hashem and His Torah.

Lot had defected from Avraham's home and joined the Sodomite society because he bought into their philosophy. But, when he met the angels and felt the energy of chesed bursting off of them, this triggered something within him. Lot began going down memory lane. He began to reminisce about how beautiful it was and how much fun it used to be with Avraham taking care of all the guests.

Lot was inspired to do chesed again, like he used to do when he was a disciple of Avraham. This is what motivated him to invite the angels over to his house even though it was life threatening. Lot was Moser Nefesh (self-sacrifice) to do a chesed.

Not only did Lot's chesed help him deserve to be saved, but, it activated the Messianic spark that laid dormant within him. Later on, Lot and his eldest daughter had a son together named Moav (Vayeira 19:33 & 37). This son became the father of the Moabite nation. Rus (Ruth) was a Moabite. She wound up converting to Judaism, married Boaz, and became the great grandmother of Dovid Hamelech (King David), whose Davidic dynasty would culminate with the Moshiach.

It was specifically Lot's chesed that reawakened the Messianic spark, because Moshiach's arrival will be a tremendous chesed to the world. This is because, when Moshiach comes, there will be no more war, no more illness, and no more poverty.

Chesed brings out the best in people. With respect to Lot, this was most certainly the case. Lot's chesed brought out the holy spark of Moshiach.

It turns out that Lot's motivation to do chesed was inspired by the angels, who themselves were inspired by Avraham. Avraham exuded so much chesed that it made an everlasting impression on all who experienced it. We can see this clearly with the angels.

Hashem typically sends compassionate angels to do acts of compassion and harsh angels to carry out acts of harshness. Hashem appointed the angel Gavriel to destroy Sedom. Since this was an act of harshness, Gavriel must have been from the harsh angels. We can see this in his name, Gavriel, which comes from the word "gevurah" (strength, might, and power). These are the qualities needed to carry out a harsh task.

Yet, we find that it took the angels all day to travel from Chevron (where Avraham was) to Sedom (Vaeira 19:1). It should have only taken the angels a few moments to cover that distance. What took them so long?

The Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 50:1) says that these angels were compassionate angels. Before setting out for Sedom, they waited for Avraham to finish praying. Maybe he could defend the inhabitants of Sedom, and there would not be a destruction at all.

This seems contradictory. The Gemara maintains that Gavriel was a harsh angel, whereas the Midrash maintains that he was a compassionate angel. Will the real Gavriel please stand up?

The Shvilei Pinchas says that, based on Rebbi Tzaddok, the answer could be that the Gemarah is absolutely right. Gavriel was a harsh angel. That's why he was sent to destroy Sedom. But, that was only at first. Then, something happened to him. He had an experience with Avraham Avinu. Avraham's chesed was so overwhelming, that it made a powerful impression even on Gavriel. Gavriel was changed. Avraham had transformed him into a compassionate angel.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this explains why Gavriel went to Avraham's home to begin with. It was not so that Gavriel would be able to do something for Avraham, it was in order that Avraham could do something for him. Hashem wanted Gavriel to be impacted by Avraham's chesed.

It worked. Gavriel was so impressed by Avraham's chesed, that Gavriel's chesed energy rubbed off on Lot, changing Lot into a more giving person, which helped him merit being rescued, and which ignited the Messianic spark.

All of this fits into the Chasam Sofer who said that this story was a preparation for the future when we will also teach the angels "Toras Chesed" (the teachings of kindness). It is interesting to note that the expression "Toras Chesed" appears at the end of Mishlei (Proverbs; 31:26). It is a section that we refer to as "Aishes Chayil" (an accomplished woman of valor) sung on Friday nights.

The Tanchumah (Parshas Chayei Sarah, siman 4) says that the true author of the Aishes Chayil was not Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon) but Avraham Avinu who composed it as his eulogy for his late wife Sarah. It is not random that the expression "Toras Chesed" appears here because Sarah equally dedicated her life to kindness.

When we teach the angels this Torah, they will be elevated by it. This may sound strange because we know that angels do not grow spiritually. Rather, they remain on whatever level they were created on (Zecharya 3:7). However, angels cannot grow on their own. But, with the assistance of a Tzaddik, they can grow.

Support to this idea is found in Meseches Succah (chap. 2, "Hayashan Tachas Hamitah", pg. 28a) where it talks about Yonasan ben Uziel. When Yonasan ben Uziel sat and learned Torah, any "Ofe" (bird) that flew over him was "Nisraf" (singed to a crisp). The Gemarah is trying to say that his Torah was on such fire, that it burned any bird that flew over him.

Many people have found this passage to be difficult. Why should an innocent bird die just because Yonasan ben Uziel wants to learn Torah? What about Tza'ar Liba'alei Chaim (the prohibition of causing pain to animals; Baba Metzia, chap. 2, "Eilu Metziyos", pg. 32a; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 305:19; based on Ki Seitzei 22:4)? What happened to animal rights? Besides, Torah should give life, not take it away.

The Imrei Yosef (preface, Likkutei Torah v'Shas, citing the Zidotchover Rebbe and the Rimonover Rebbe) says that we first have to become privy of two things. Number one, the word "Ofe" does not only mean a "bird," rather, it can also refer to a "Malach" (angel). When it says that an "Ofe" (bird) of the sky will carry the sound and some winged creature betray the matter" (Koheles 10:20), it is referring to a "Malach" who can carry entire conversations and repeat them when necessary (Zohar parshas Pikudei, pg. 241b).

Secondly, the Rambam (Hilchos Yisodei Hatorah, 2:7) lists ten categories of angels. Each category has a different name and a different rank. For example, "Serafim" (Sarafites) rank number 5, whereas "Malachim" rank number 6. (We commonly use the word malach as a generic term for all angels. But, it actually refers to a specific category).

Therefore, when it says that any "Ofe" which flew over his head was "Nisraf", it actually means that any "malach" which flew over his head was "Nisraf." "Nisraf" does not mean "burned." Rather, the word "Nisraf" is a contracted word, standing for, "Na'aseh Saraf" (became a Sarafite). There was no bird that got hurt and died. There was an angel that got lifted.

This means to say that through the Torah of Yonasan be Uziel, a "malach" (who ranked 6) was promoted to "Saraf" (who ranked 5). This shows us that although an angel cannot elevate himself, through the efforts of a Tzaddik, an angel can be uplifted to a higher spiritual level. Just as Yonasan ben Uziel was able to lift an angel to a higher level, we will also be capable of doing the same thing when we teach the angels Torah.

Before the time comes when we teach angels about chesed, we need to teach ourselves even more about chesed. We must use that knowledge to reach out to other people and do even more chesed.

So, practically speaking, we should try to make a seder (study session) in chesed. The Chofetz Chaim wrote a sefer (book) called "Ahavas Chesed" (loving kindness). Under the chapter called "Gemilus Chassadim," (chapters 12-18) the Chofetz Chaim talks about Bikur Cholim (visiting the sick), Tzedakah (charity), Hachnasas Orchim (hospitality), and Chesed (kindness). Increased knowledge about this subject may motivate us to do even more Chesed.

So, may we all be blessed to make our father Avraham even prouder of us by learning from his ways of Chesed, growing to such a degree that we will even be able to teach the angels a thing or two about harnessing all materialism for kindness, when Hashem takes the sun out of its encasing to purify the world and bring us the holy spark of Moshiach, who will lift us all to even greater heights.