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Shabbat Parashat Vayeira 5778

Parashat Hashavua: People for Avraham and Angels for Lot

Harav Shaul Yisraeli based on Siach Shaul, p. 45-46

The same beings that are described, when visiting Avraham, as anashim (people) (Bereishit 18:2) are described, when visiting Lot, as malachim (angels) (Bereishit 19:1). In the previous parasha, in the context of Avraham’s involvement in the war between the four kings and the five kings, the latter placed the victorious Avraham on a throne and said to him: “Rule over us; you are a god for us.” Avraham responded: “Let the world not be deprived of its King” (Bereishit Rabba 41:3).

The explanation is that these differences stem from the difference between the Jewish view of Hashem and those of other nations. We believe in the idea of imitatio dei: “Just as He is …, so too we must be that way” (Shabbat 133b). As the Torah says, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (Vayikra 11:44).

Emulating Hashem is, on the one hand, very demanding; on the other hand, it develops in a person a feeling of great self-recognition and confidence to act. We believe that even if we have slipped, we have the ability to return to the right path, even if a person is at the opening to hell.

Other nations developed outlooks that “protected” them from overly ambitious spiritual aspirations. They did this by making, on the one hand, a great separation between man and the divine. God is very high, and man is very low. This enabled them to have an “exemption” from aspirations and an acceptance of the spiritually low level.

These nations are enamored with great men. They respect them so greatly that it is actually too much. They told Avraham: “You are a god for us.” As this was their approach, it is no surprise that Avraham’s noble actions had no impact on the people of Sodom, who continued to act as Sodomites are known to do. Why should one learn from Avraham? After all, they view him as an angel, or even a deity. While we say: “Just like He is, so too we should be,” they say, “What He is, we cannot be.”

Avraham saw the angels, and they seemed to him like people, for this is the way people should be. Lot saw angels, and immediately he backtracked. He spent the whole night trying to explain to the angels that the people of Sodom were not that bad (see Rashi, Bereishit 19:4). He argued that the people are not angels, and they cannot therefore be expected to be more than lowly flesh and blood, who give into their temptations. [The rest of the notes to this address are missing.]   

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