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Vayera: The Intervention of Angels

Vayera (And He Appeared)
Genesis 18:1–22:24; 2 Kings 4:1–37; Hebrews 11:1–40

“The LORD appeared [vayera] to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day.”  (Genesis 18:1)

In last week’s Parasha, God sealed His Covenant with Abram, which promised the Land to his descendants as an eternal heritage.

This week’s Parasha contains more angelic activity than any of the other Parashot.  Angels appear to Abraham as men, bringing messages to him and Sarah of future events to come.  They also save Lot from a hostile mob, lead Hagar to water for her son, and comfort Hagar with the promise of Ishmael becoming a great nation.  Later in the Parasha, the angels also prevent Abraham from sacrificing his son, Isaac. 

Torah scroll-Torah tik

Torah scroll protected by a beautiful Torah tik (case).  (Photo: Jewish Agency)

This week’s Parasha is entitled vayera (וירא), which means appeared.  It is called that because Abraham receives in Hebron’s plains of Mamre three mysterious guests.

It seems that God is visiting Abraham while he is convalescing from his Brit Milah or circumcision, which had occurred three days prior.  Despite his discomfort, Abraham graciously attends to his guests.

Abraham, in welcoming the three men, is demonstrating more than just good manners.  This attitude of open hospitality has saved many a nomad’s life in the harsh desert climate.

In fact, this custom of welcoming the stranger or hachnasot orchim is one of two Jewish mitzvot (commandments) still practiced today that originated in God’s visit to Abraham.  The other is bikkur cholim or visiting the sick.

We can be assured that God sees when we are ill, and He is present to comfort and minister to us.  Furthermore, angels are still active today to protect, save, help, warn and encourage us.

“The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him, and rescues them.”  (Psalm 34:7)

Abraham and the Angels-Aert de Gelder

Abraham and the Angels, by Aert de Gelder

The Brit Milah

The Brit Milah (covenant of circumcision) is Judaism’s oldest ritual.  It is the only mitzvah (commandment) that was carried out communally by the Israelites before entering the Promised Land.  In fact, God commanded Joshua to take flint knives in order to circumcise their sons because this covenant had not been exercised during the desert wanderings.

“Then Joshua circumcised their sons whom He raised up in their place; for they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way.  So it was, when they had finished circumcising all the people, that they stayed in their places in the camp till they were healed.  Then the LORD said to Joshua, ‘This day I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.’”  (Joshua 5:7–9)

The Talmud (Jewish Oral Law) considers the milah (from the verb la’mul meaning to circumcise) to be equal to all the other 612 commands.

We can see this mathematically in Jewish gematria. Since Hebrew letters are also numbers, the Hebrew word brit, meaning covenant, has a numerical value of 612 (bet = 2; reish = 200; yud = 10; tav = 400).

So when brit (612) is combined with the singular commandment of the milah in Brit Milah, it equals 613 — in other words, the full number of the commandments in the Torah.

Torah-Bar Mitzvah

Reading from the Torah scroll

While anyone can be circumcised simply for health reasons, when a Jewish person fulfills this commandment in order to be in covenant with God, it elevates the circumcision as an act of holiness.  The Brit Milah represents our bond with Adonai.

For this reason, it is considered by some people as something uniquely Jewish; circumcision is the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham and His descendants forever.  In ancient times, Gentiles were, therefore, referred to as “the uncircumcised ones.”

For instance, when David referred to the giant Goliath, he called him an ”uncircumcised Philistine.”

“For who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”  (1 Samuel 17:26)

What difference would it make to David and Israel whether or not Goliath’s foreskin was still intact?

David was not announcing the state of Goliath’s physical condition; rather, he was emphasizing the fact that this giant was not in holy covenant with the God of Israel.

In other words, David was proclaiming a message of faith that God would uphold the covenant and protect Israel.  It might have been challenging not to look on the strength and prowess of his enemy, but David overcame and, instead, looked to the strength and faithfulness of the God of Israel.

Goliath Laughs at David-Ilya Repin

Goliath Laughs at David, by Ilya Repin

Although the commandment to the Jewish People to circumcise their sons on the 8th day still holds true, the Torah tells us that God will circumcise our hearts and those of our descendants — to love and obey Him when we come back into the Land:

“The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love Him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.”  (Deuteronomy 30:6)

The ancient Hebrew prophet, Jeremiah, also called the Jewish People to circumcise their hearts:

“Circumcise yourselves to the LORD; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest My wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.”  (Jeremiah 4:4)

The issue of circumcision extends far beyond the physical and becomes a crucial matter of the heart.

The circumcision of the heart is not done with human hands but is only accomplished by the faithful working of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) in the lives of those who follow Yeshua (Jesus).

“In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Messiah.”  (Colossians 2:11)

brit milah-circumcision

An Israeli grandfather holds his grandchild after the Brit Milah.

For the Sake of Ten — The Minyan and the Tithe

As a man in covenant with God, it seems that Abraham is privy to some insider information.

In this Parasha, Abraham learns of God’s intention to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their sin.

In pleading for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham, whose name means father of a multitude of nations, lives up to his name by acting as a father who pities his children.  He asks God if His judgment would be stayed if He found 50 righteous men there.

If 50 were not found, Abraham pleads for the sake of 40, then 30, then 20, and finally 10.  God promises that for the sake of 10 righteous, He will not destroy the cities.

Ten is an important number corresponding to the tenth Hebrew letter, yud (י), which was originally pronounced yad, meaning arm and hand.

So, we can understand that in Hebrew, the number 10 is a reference to the hand of God or arm of the Lord, which represents salvation (Psalm 60:5 and Isaiah 53:1), authority (Isaiah 40:10–11), power and strength (Isaiah 28:2), judgment (Exodus 15:11–12), and mercy (Psalm 17:7).

“Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear.”  (Isaiah 59:1)

The Departure of Lot and His Family from Sodom-Peter Paul Rubens

The Departure of Lot and His Family from Sodom, by Peter Paul Rubens

Ten is so recognized in Judaism that a minimum of 10 Jewish men, called a minyan, must be gathered to hold religious services in the synagogue.

Of course, we can see examples in Scripture where the number 10 is associated with power and covenant.

God sent Ten Plagues on Egypt to show His power to the Egyptians and rescue the Israelites.  He wrote the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone for the Israelites so that they would know how to live holy lives protecting their covenant relationship with Him.

Ten is also a number of testing.  Moses sent out 12 spies to spy out the Land of Israel and 10 came back with an evil report.  In the wilderness, the children of Israel tested God 10 times (Numbers 14:22).  Jacob’s wages were changed 10 times by Laban.  Daniel and his friends were tested for 10 days in Babylon.

Aseret ha-D'varim-Ten Sayings-Ten Statements-Ten Declarations-Ten Words

The Ten Commandments identify our duties in our relationship with God and  in our relationship with other people. They are essentially the 10 categories under which all the other commandments fall.

Ten also can represent our covenant obligations.  A tenth of our income is also the required portion to give to the Lord.  This is also a test.  Every time we earn money, the test is to see whether or not we will bring the first 10% to God.  It is really a test of our heart — where is our first loyalty?

Moreover, this is the only place in the Bible where God invites us to TEST HIM!

“‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house.  Test Me in this,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.’”  (Malachi 3:10)

Tithing — bringing a full tenth of our income into the house of the Lord — is a test.  Our checkbook register shows our hearts — what we do with our money is a test.

Also for the sake of ten, a tenth of our income, God promises to rebuke the devourer.  He will not allow destruction of our material goods for the sake of a tenth.

“I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the LORD Almighty.  (Malachi 3:11)


Fresh tomatoes at the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv (Photo: Go Israel / Dana Friedlander)

When we find that our profits are being devoured and there is not enough to meet the need, it is time to check if we are faithfully tithing.

When we tithe, we are in reality just bringing to God what belongs to Him.  That is why Scripture uses the word “bring” and not “give.”  If something does not belong to us, it is not ours to keep or give away.

The tithe does not belong to us; it belongs to the Lord.

For instance, to find in Scripture where people failed to bring the tithe and suffered the consequences, we need look no further than Jericho, the first city Israel conquered after crossing the Jordan to the Promised Land.

Jericho was the “tithe” of all the other cities because it was the first one conquered.  God told Israel not to take any of the spoils of Jericho; but one man disobeyed.  Achan roamed the rubble at night, stole money and other spoils, and hid them under his tent.

Therefore, Israel had no victory until God exposed the sin, and Achan along with his family and all his belongings were destroyed.

“Will a mere mortal rob God?  Yet you rob me. But you ask, ’How are we robbing you?’ In tithes and offerings.  You are under a curse — your whole nation — because you are robbing Me.”  (Malachi 3:8–9)


A Jewish child inputs coins into a special box called a pushke for charity.  Traditionally, Jewish people give at least ten percent of their income.

Children of Promise

In entertaining angels, Abraham learned that Sarah, who was 90, would give birth to a son, despite her old age.

In fact, Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born.

They called him Yitzchak (Isaac) from the Hebrew word for laughtzchok, because Sarah laughed when she overhead what the angel prophesied.

But when Yitzchak was born, that laughter turned from mockery to joy and delight.   “Sarah said, ‘God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.’”  (Genesis 21:6)

This contrasts the birth of Ishmael, which brought strife and sorrow, although Abraham obviously loved him deeply, and God had promised to make him into a nation.

Things birthed of the flesh most often bring strife and frustration, but when the Spirit of God gives birth to something in our lives, it brings joy and laughter, not only to us but to others as well.

God clearly tells Abraham and Sarah that although he will bless Ishmael and make him into a great nation, the covenant will pass through the lineage of Isaac.  Isaac will inherit the Promised Land.

To protect Isaac and the covenant, Ishmael, son of the bondwoman, Hagar, is sent away with his mother into the wilderness where he will learn to foster a relationship with God by calling out to Him on his own.

“God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What is the matter, Hagar?  Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there.  Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.’”  (Genesis 21:17–18)

Hagar and Ishmael in the Desert, by Giuseppe Zola

Hagar and Ishmael in the Desert, by Giuseppe Zola

Still, Abraham’s faith is tested in a much deeper way.  In Chapter 22, of this Parasha, God calls him to offer Isaac as a sacrifice.

“Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, even Isaac, and go into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell you of.”  (Genesis 22:3)

From the beginning, Abraham trusted God, despite the enormity of God’s command.  Perhaps, one of the ways he had been schooled in that trust was the sending away of his son Ishmael.

That trust is evident when Isaac asked, “Where is the lamb (seh)?”  Abraham told him that God will provide the Lamb. Yet, for the sake of Isaac, God provided not a lamb, but a ram (ayil).  (Genesis 22:13)

Because of Abraham’s faith and trust in God, He provided a substitute sacrifice for Isaac.  Likewise, God Himself provided a substitute sacrifice for the sins of all who share in the faith of Abraham.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His son, His only son (whom He loved) so that whoever would believe on Him would not perish but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16)

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