“Multi-Mission” Parashat Vayera 5777

Avraham, recovering from his recent circumcision, is visited by three strangers. A Jewish child over the age of two with any kind of Jewish education will tell you that these strangers were not human – they were angels. Rashi even names them: Michael, Gabriel, and Rafael. Quoting from the Midrash in Bereishit Raba, Michael came in order to inform Avraham of the impending birth of Yitzchak, Gabriel came to destroy Sodom and its four sister cities (“The Five Towns”), and Rafael came to heal Avraham[1] and to save Avraham’s nephew, Lot, who happened to be living in Sodom.

Why did Hashem have to send three angels? Why couldn’t one angel perform all three tasks? Rashi answers that an angel can perform only one mission. In order to perform three missions, three angels were required. This begs a question: why should an angel be limited to one mission? Why can’t Hashem create a utilitarian angel who can perform lots of missions? Actually, the limiting of an angel to performing one mission makes a lot of sense. The term “multi-mission” or “multi-role” is ubiquitous in the defense industry. Many of our anti-missile systems use an MMR, a Multi-Mission Radar that performs fire control as well as surveillance, a radar that can scan a sector or a full 360-degree circle. Lockheed Martin is marketing their new F-35 Lightning II jet as a “true multi-role aircraft”. The F-35 can perform the combat air patrol just as well as it performs the attack role. The advantage of being a “multi-role” or “multi-mission” weapon system is that the system saves the prospective customer money. For instance, he does not have to procure two different types of airplanes, one to keep his sky clean and the other to pummel the enemy ground forces. He can save half the cost by procuring only one type of aircraft that performs both missions equally well. The problem is that the “multi-role” role can sometimes force a weapon to perform a mission that it is ill-equipped to perform. Referring back to the F-35, while Lockheed Martin brags about its air-to-air capability, pilots who have flown the F-35 against the F-16, an aircraft that is forty years older, admit that they face a distinct disadvantage, to the point that they’d rather be in the F-16, or better yet, in front of the television watching a football game. When it comes to Hashem, He is never satisfied with second-best. The Talmud frequently uses the term “Ein aniyut bimkom ashirut”, literally “Poverty and wealth do not mix”. In the Beit HaMikdash a vessel that broke would not be fixed – it would be discarded. The same goes for priestly clothing that became dirty. It was not washed – it was thrown in the garbage. This is how things operate in Hashem’s house. The same rule applies for angels: as Divine Messengers, each angel performs one and only one well-defined mission.

Or at least that’s what they’re supposed to do. But if we take a close look at Rashi, we notice that one of the angels – Rafael – actually performs two missions: he is sent to heal Avraham and then to rescue Lot from Sodom. The commentators of Rashi notice this discrepancy and come to his rescue. Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi suggests that “healing” and “rescuing” are both derived from the same root, the alleviation of physical distress, and so in essence Rafael is performing two tasks but only one mission. Problem solved.

Or maybe it isn’t. The Midrash quoted by Rashi also appears in the Talmud in Tractate Bava Metzia [86b]. The version quoted in the Talmud is nearly identical to the version quoted by Rashi, but with one major difference: in the version quoted by the Talmud, it is the angel Michael that has two missions. He is sent to inform Avraham that he will soon have an heir, and also to rescue Lot. Call me a heretic, but these look like two completely different missions. As a result, the answer proposed by Rav Mizrachi is of no help here.

In order to answer our question, we will have to take a deep dive into the reason Lot was saved from the inferno that destroyed Sodom. Lot moves to Sodom after he and Avraham clash. Last week we showed that this clash was born from Lot’s rejection of Avraham and his religion. Sodom is, well, Sodom, and eventually Hashem tires of their wickedness, and decides give the entire place a CTL-ALT-DEL. When Hashem tells Avraham of His plans, Avraham is shocked. He asks Hashem [Bereishit 18:23] “Would You kill the righteous along with the wicked?” Avraham then attempts to convince Hashem to rescind His decree as long as a certain number of righteous people can be found in the city. Never does Avraham ask Hashem to specifically save Lot, probably because Avraham understands that Lot is no less evil than any of his neighbours[2]. So why does Hashem save him?

Rav Yitzchak Meir Rotenberg-Alter, the first Rebbe of the Ger Hasidic dynasty, writing in “Chidushei ha’Rim”, suggests that the only reason that Lot was saved was because of his daughters. After Lot and his family leave Sodom, his wife “looks back” and is turned into a pillar of salt. His daughters, fearing that they are the last survivors on the planet, seduce their father and become pregnant from him. From these illicit relations are born Amon and Moab, the fathers of two nations who will become a thorn in the side of Am Yisrael for many years. More importantly, Amon and Moab are two links in the chain to our redemption: Na’ama the Amonite was the wife of King Solomon and the mother of King Rechavam, and Ruth the Moabite was the great-grandmother of King David. Without these two women there would be no Davidic Dynasty and hence no Moshiach. Hence, if Lot and his daughters are not rescued from Sodom there is no Moshiach. Regardless of their illicit behaviour, perhaps because of it[3], they are rescued from Sodom. Not because they warranted it, but because the rest of the world did.

Let’s return to the angel Michael. Michael performed two tasks: he told Avraham of the imminent birth of Yitzchak and he rescued Lot. Both of these tasks were necessary components of the future redemption. Had Avraham despaired of ever having an heir, he might have invested more time and effort into making Yishmael his successor. The result would have been catastrophic, for Am Yisrael and for all of mankind. And so in essence Michael is performing two tasks but only one mission. Problem solved.

The only question we have left to address is why Rashi chose to quote from the Midrash in Bereishit Raba and not from the Talmud. I believe the answer lies in the message that the Torah is trying to teach us. The Torah is not a storybook – it is a Book of Ethics. We are meant to learn from these stories how to perfect ourselves. With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at the future redemption. The Prophet Isaiah [60:22] predicts the redemption with the words “I am Hashem, I will hasten [the redemption] in its time”. The Talmud in Tractate Sanhedrin [98a] notes that this is a contradiction in terms: either the redemption will happen at some pre-determined time or it will be hastened. The Talmud answers that if Am Yisrael merit (through our actions) then the redemption will be hastened. Otherwise it will occur at its pre-destined time. The angel Michael’s “one mission in two tasks” is relevant only in a pre-determined redemption. It is a fatalistic approach, an approach that leaves nothing to man. Amon and Moab must be born, even if it requires incest, and Yishmael can never succeed Avraham. But man’s choice trumps fatalism: On the one hand, Amon and Moab are eventually banned from joining Am Yisrael [Devarim 23:5] because of their mistreatment of their thirsty Jewish cousins, on the other hand, Yishmael eventually repents. Rashi refused to settle for redemption “in its time”. Rashi wants to spur us to choose our future, and by doing so, to hasten the redemption, speedily in our days.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5777

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Moshe Dov ben Malka and Adi bat Ravit.

[1] The assumption that these men were supernatural angels leads to numerous difficulties in understanding the simple meaning of the verses, such as the fact that they ate a meal together with Avraham.

[2] Compare Avraham’s behaviour with his behaviour after Lot is captured in Parashat Lech Lecha. When he hears [Bereishit 14:14] “that his [nephew] has been taken captive”, he runs to rescue him.

[3] This is a topic for another shiur.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over twenty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including two briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. He speaks regularly for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Ari is a highly requested speaker at AIPAC events, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science", and his speaking events are regularly sold-out. Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA and Canada. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2001 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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