This week’s parasha begins with the verse: “Now G-d appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day.” (Genesis 18:1) Why doesn’t the Torah mention Abraham by name, especially since a new prophecy is generally introduced with the name of the prophet being addressed? The absence of Abraham’s name is also notable, as the sentence appears at the opening of the parasha. This question is even more pressing if we consider the fact that only six verses earlier, in Genesis 17:22, the Torah does something very unusual–it describes the termination of G-d’s appearance to a prophet: “And having said these words, G-d went up from Abraham.” I can’t recall many other instances when the Torah dedicates a verse to the removal of Hashem’s presence, following His “visit” with a prophet. (With Abraham it is done twice–once in last week’s parasha [17:22] and once in this week’s parasha [18:33].) Since the Torah makes a point of doing it in the previous parasha, it would seem to make even more sense that when G-d begins to speak to Abraham again in the opening of Vayeira, the Torah should have mentioned Abraham by name.
It seems to me that the use of him, rather than Abraham, is meant to direct our attention to the previous parasha. There Abraham is introduced to the mitzva of circumcision. Although the mitzva is connected with G-d’s covenant with Abraham and his offspring, with Hashem’s earlier promises to make Abraham the father of a great nation, there is now an additional price to be paid as Abraham’s part of the deal. There is no mention of any new benefits that might accrue from the mitzva, nor any reason given for why this painful ritual should be performed. It simply reiterates Hashem’s earlier promises. Yet this time they come at a painful new cost. Still, Avraham hastens to perform his part of the covenant without delay.
Clearly, the new revelation at the beginning of Vayeira comes in the merit of Abraham’s haste in fulfilling the earlier commandment of mila. We know that this is the beginning of a new manifestation of Hashem’s spirit because, as previously mentioned, the Torah has made a point of indicating G-d’s termination of the earlier visitation. Thus the absence of Abraham’s name at the beginning of the new parasha serves the purpose of reminding us of the previous portion and instructing us that it is Abraham’s devotion to Hashem which brings Him back again so quickly. The greater our love for Hashem, reflected in what we are willing to sacrifice for an intimate relationship with Him, the deeper is our mutual connection to Him.
We see this at the end of the parasha, when Hashem again uses the words Lech Lecha and commands Abraham to take Yitzchak to Moriah and to offer him up as a sacrifice on the mountain which will be indicated by Hashem. Here we have a commandment that flies in the face of everything Abraham has heard from G-d before. Not only are there no new promises to sweeten the unsavory deal, but Hashem seems to be backtracking on all the earlier promises. Isaac, through whom G-d has pledged that Abraham will become a great nation, is to be sacrificed. Unlike the original Lech Lecha command, which was sweetened by the promise of Abraham’s becoming father to a great nation; unlike the circumcision demand which repeated the earlier promises, though it came at the expense of great risk and physical pain; this final command to sacrifice Isaac contradicts everything Abraham had been told before. What about the great nation, the blessings, the eternal convenant? Hashem is asking for Abraham’s long-awaited and “only son” in return for–nothing.
It seems that there is nothing to be gained by Abraham’s obedience. Yet for Abraham, there is only one choice; he obeys–not in this instance for any promised reward, or as his side of the covenant G-d has foisted on him, but because G-d asks him to. Abraham’s commitment to his relationship with Hashem has developed to the point where he is ready to do anything that Hashem asks of him, even if it means sacrificing his own future. Inevitably, however, Abraham’s commitment to Hashem is rewarded with Hashem’s commitment to Abraham and to the nation that comes from him, in accordance with G-d’s promise. Indeed the very mountain, Mount Moriah, where Abraham has been prepared to sacrifice his only son is destined to be the site of the Beit HaMikdash, the everlasting symbol of Hashem’s eternal and mutual connection to his people.
Rabbi Moshe Goldsmith Itamar