Torah Study Notes 10-19-13

October 19, 2013
This story of Abraham’s encounter with God takes place in Hebron right after the birth of Ishmael. Abraham is recovering from his circumcision.
p. 123
18:1 The first and second sentence seem to be disconnected. We are told first that the Eternal appeared and then three strangers appear. We are to assume that they are a manifestation of God. God is present to visit Abraham, in part, because he is ill. This establishes the mitzvoth of visiting the sick. See footnote 3 – Maimonides understood the entire episode to have been a vision.
18:8 Note the ostensibly non-kosher presentation. A major question is presented: did Abraham have the Torah? Christians would argue not. But per rabbinic argument there is no before or after in the Torah.. He knew the law. Per Rashi the men pretended to eat out of courtesy. Alternatively, they may not be known by Abraham to be Jewish. Throughout the Middle Ages meat and milk could be on the table – just not mixed. They could be consumed sequentially. The practice changed toward the end of the Middle Ages. Note that there is a difference between a milk product and a meat product in terms of preparation. There must be much greater scrutiny of meat products than milk since with meat there must be ritual slaughter. Also, historically there has been a rejection in Judaism of the asceticism practiced by other faiths. Strict adherence to rules replaces asceticism.
18:9 Sarah laughs. This is the sole encounter between God and Sarah. Contrast the meeting between God and Hagar where God speaks directly to Hagar. Abraham’s response to God’s statement that Sarah will have a child is ambiguous. He is happy that he already has a child. Sarah is actually challenging the notion of progress – in the sense that progress is defined as something new that alters the established order. Ishmael comes to represent Islam and Esau represents Christianity. Up until now we are not privy to God’s long term plans. This is the first expression of the covenant.
18:16 “Should I hide from Abraham what I am doing?” God appears to be ambivalent about how to proceed – and he talks to Himself. The Eternal tradition seems to convey a much more anthropomorphic image of God. This suggests that God wants to see what Abraham’s response to the plan will be. He asks a rhetorical question. We are engaged in a literary drama. Abraham is at a crossroads and a fateful decision will have to be made. Will Abraham’s nation be a righteous one?
18:20 -26 Will you sweep away the innocent along with the wicked? This is not merely a question of reward and punishment but justice. Talmud study is intended to be difficult. An active reader has to fill in the gaps. Abraham is probing the nature of justice – how is it to be determined.
LL/

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