Abraham: Attending to Man

Moshe Ben-Chaim

Whether we understand the story of the three men visiting Abraham as literal or as a vision (Rambam), we are intrigued by Abraham's zeal and honor in his treatment of these men; three complete strangers. 

Although in pain from circumcision, he waits in the "heat of the day" to find wayfarers to serve. Upon seeing the three men, He runs to them, bows to them, addresses the leader as "master" (Rambam) and refers to himself as a servant. He runs to attend to them, prepares a luxurious meal sparing no expense, and waits upon them as they eat. (Abraham's perfection displayed in this account is no less compromised if this was a vision.) 

This is the same Abraham who courageously waged battle against four mighty kings: he was no meek individual. What was Abraham's intent with his high-level treatment of these men? Is this categorized as kindness? Certainly it is. But perhaps in this case, there was a greater objective than material kindness.

God appeared to Abraham in the "Plains of Mamre". Mamre was one of Abraham's allies. Daas Zikanim teaches that God appeared here, precisely to pay honor to Mamre, since he gave Abraham good advice. In other words, His appearance at this location was to honor Mamre. Why? Abraham asked Mamre, "Shall I perform circumcision publicly or privately?" Mamre said publicly. "How shall I get my entire household to agree to circumcision?" Mamre said that if Abraham and Ishmael would perform it first, it would be easier to convince his household. 

Abraham was concerned to reach others, and not simply with his teaching. He understood human nature and therefore he acted in a manner that forged strong bonds of identification and genuine friendships. He did this, as he understood that man is impressed with those who show respect and care for them. This was part of Mamre's advice: act first, and others will follow. I believe this is why Abraham tended to these men in such a manner...

To eventually attract mankind to the Creator, Abraham understood that others will be more acceptable of changing their philosophy, if their teacher (Abraham) is a true friend and respects them. This instills in others a deep sense of appreciation for Abraham. The three men will become convinced that Abraham does not simply wish to oppose them or their philosophies, but he cares about them, as he attended to them with such dignity and concern for all aspects.

Imagine a man running towards you, not simply walking. This shows his excitement at your presence. He bows to you, making you feel important. He calls you "master", offering you elevated dignity. He calls himself "servant", displaying no challenge to your ego. He prepares a great meal for you, sparing no expense. Money is what most people value, and when others spend it on you, you feel honored and indebted. He waits upon you as you eat, to be available, should you need anything, and to determine your satisfaction with the feast. Abraham always fostered kindness. But Abraham went to the extremes, since he desired to share more than material kindness with man. He desired to be kind in the greatest measure: teaching others about God.

This story of Abraham's level of care for man, is connected with God's appearance – His promise of a child and news of Sodom. As God says later, He will not keep hidden from Abraham the matter of Sodom since Abraham teaches others God's path, of righteousness and justice. As a teacher of God's way and one concerned for humanity expressed to these three men, Abraham must know more about God's methods if he is to accurately share truths. Thus, the story of Abraham's attending these men, his receipt of a child and news of Sodom are interrelated. Its is due to Abraham's desire to share God's ways with others, that he is blessed with others(children) and also taught of God's considerations regarding Providence, and Reward and Punishment (Sodom).