Angel, Merchant, Prophet, Doctor
Three angels in the visage of merchants visit the campsite of Abraham. The recorded discussion is extremely brief (Exodus 18:9,10). The angels inquire as to Sarah’s whereabouts, Abraham responds that she is in the tent, and then they proclaim the joyous and incredulous news that at the same time next year, 90-year old Sarah will give birth to a son.
Rabbi Ovadia Sforno asks a simple question. Why did the angels need to come and deliver their prophecy? Just a few days and verses earlier (Exodus 17, verses 16,19 and 21) God directly informs Abraham in unequivocal terms regarding the impending birth, the timing, and even the name – Isaac.
Sforno, back in the 1500s, provides a surprising, and what might appear in his continuation as a medically advanced answer: the angel’s reason for visiting Abraham’s household and proclaiming their prophecy, was to make Sarah happy. The Torah indeed reports to us the immediate reaction to the angel’s therapy (Exodus 18:12): Sarah laughs at the wild and unlikely news.
Sforno continues with a line that would please a modern psychotherapist: the happiness of the pregnant mother will lead to a healthier baby. It would be interesting to discover if this was a common belief of Sforno’s time, or if he was unique in this viewpoint. Seeing as Isaac lived to the reported ripe old age of 180 years, these angelic doctors seemed to know what they were doing.
Like our forefathers before us, may we always strive and succeed to be happy and healthy in body, in mind and in spirit.
A Rose by Any Other Name?
God reveals Himself to Abraham in this week’s parasha (Genesis Ch. 17, verse 1) with the name “Shadai” (letters Shin, Daled, Yud). Centuries later when He reveals Himself to Moses, the Torah goes out of its way (Exodus Ch. 6, verse 3) to point out that he did not reveal Himself to the forefathers with the Tetragammaton, the Four-Letter Name of God (letters Yud, Heh, Vav, Heh).
What difference does it make by what name we know God? Why did Abraham, Isaac and Jakob receive one name and Moses another?
The 16th century Italian commentator, Rabbi Ovadia Sforno, brings our attention to two different levels of divine involvement implied in the different names. “Shadai” can also be read and translated as “That is sufficient”. It implies God’s self-sufficiency and ability to Be and to create the universe ex-nihilo. He exists without there being anything else, or with anything else acting on Him. The relationship of God to Man represented by “Shadai” is one within the normal bounds of nature and that was the basis of the relationship God had with our forefathers.
However, there is an even higher level of expression of the divine, that of revealed, public miracles that are completely outside the bounds of nature, as well as the level of prophecy that only Moses was privy to. This aspect of God was new to the nascent Jewish nation and required specific instructions and formulation. From the moment of Exodus forward, the relationship between God and Israel would be predicated by the supernatural, such as the Egyptian plagues, the splitting of the sea, the Sinai covenant, and all the miracles that have been a part of Jewish history since.
God’s willingness to be actively and sometimes visibly involved in the lives of people and nations marks a higher level of connection and divine love that we should always be cognizant and appreciative of.