“[Abraham] said, ‘Master, if I find favour in your eyes, please pass not from Your servant’” Genesis 18:3
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In one of the most astonishing moments of Torah narrative, Abraham asks God to stand and wait while he attends to three travellers. God has presented Himself to Abraham in a moment of intimacy between Creator and created. Abraham apparently shuns Him for three mortals, striking us as somewhere between chutzpah and ignominy. Yet the Torah shows no divine disdain and the Talmud sees it as virtuous.
A careful reading of the preceding verses offers a powerful hint. The opening line of the sidrah “God appeared to Abraham” introduces no dialogue. Instead, the very next verse tells us, “Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw, behold there were three men”. It seems that the appearance of the travellers is an integral part of God’s revelation.
The implication is profound. At its simplest, the message is that God does not want spirituality to come at the expense of ignoring others. In an age where many seek spirituality through detachment from the world, that is a critical lesson.
But there is a deeper layer too. Caring for the lost traveller does not break the revelation with God, it takes it to the next level. Man may come close to God through mystical encounter, but man comes far closer to God by becoming the hand of God on earth. In the words of the Midrash: “It is greater to be like God than to be with God.”
Indeed, the relationship is two-way; those very travellers turn out to be emissaries to convey the word of God to Abraham. The message of the Torah calls out to us today. In helping others we become lifted. In listening to others, we allow them to be lifted. If we want to reach out to God, we must learn to reach out to others; if we want to hear God, we must learn to hear others.