Parahas Vayeira: Seeing People Differently
“And the two malachim (angels) came to S‘dom (Bereishis 19:1)…”
Earlier in the parsha (18:2), when the malachim came to Avraham Avinu, it says that three “anashim “(people) came.
Why does the torah change its wording to say that “malachim” (angels) arrived in S’dom versus “people” when they approached Avraham?
The great and holy rabbi, Rabbi Leib Sarah’s (a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, 1730 – 4 Adar 1796) explained that Avraham Avinu eagerly took in all guests regardless of their appearance, whether they seemed to be honorable people or bedraggled. So the angels did not have to take on a special appearance for Avraham to admit them into his his tent — he welcomed all travelers. So, they appeared to Avraham as ordinary people. However in S’dom the malachim manifested as angels of Hashem so that Lot would be willing to take them in as his guests. Had they appeared before him as simple people he would have never troubled himself with them.
To gain greater insight into this vort, let see a fascinating detail of how the tzadik, Rabbi Binyomin Zev Wolf of Zhebarizh (the son of Rabbi Yechiel Mechel of Zlotchiv, nifter on 3 Nissan 1822), conducted himself.
Reb Velvel, as he was called, referred to every Jew as a “tzadik”. As the Navi (Yeshaya 60:21) teaches us, “Everyone of your nation is righteous”. He would do this so consistently that a simple wagon driver once asked him whether it would be an appropriate match for their children to marry. The simple wagon driver considered himself a tzadik as well as Reb Velvel since he referred to the driver that way.
Earlier in the parsha (18:21) before decreeing destruction on S’dom, Hashem said, ”Eirdoh v‘er‘eh” (I will descend, and I will see). What does it mean when referring to Hashem to descend and to see? One of the Rambam’s (1135-1204) thirteen principles of faith is that Hashem is all-knowing. Obviously He doesn’t need “to descend and to see” (see Perush Hamishnos of the Rambam, Sanhedrin 10:1).
The Ohr Hachaim Hakodosh (Rabbi Chaim ben Moshe Ibn Atar, 1696 – 15 Tammuz 1743) explains that these words are to be understood as if Hashem were saying, “I will ‘lower’ My ‘presence’ ” . Given Hashem‘s infinitely lofty existence, any misdeed against Him should result in the total annihilation of the miscreant (see Yerushalmi Makos 2:6) . He therefore told Avraham Avinu that before He would judge the people of S’dom , He would, so to speak, ”lower” His “profile”, as if the people were sinning “kavyochol” — against a lesser authority.
Avraham Avinu, like the Reb Velvel, viewed all people as tzadikim. This is something he learned from Hashem’s behavior. Hashem lowered His “profile”, so to speak, in order to judge S’dom with mercy. Since a “tzadik” is judged more severely than an ordinary person (see Yevamos 121B), if Hashem had elevated them to the level of tzadikkim, it would have resulted in an extremely harsh judgment,. This however is not so in regard to Avraham and Reb Velvel. They both could afford to raise the level esteem they held of everyone. And, they did.