Sunday, November 01, 2009

Under The Terebinths of Mamre

Genesis Chapter 18

1 And the LORD appeared unto him by the terebinths of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; 2 and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood over against him; and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed down to the earth, 3 and said: 'My lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant. 4 Let now a little water be fetched, and wash your feet, and recline yourselves under the tree. 5 And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and stay ye your heart; after that ye shall pass on; forasmuch as ye are come to your servant.' And they said: 'So do, as thou hast said.' 6 And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said: 'Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes.' 7 And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetched a calf tender and good, and gave it unto the servant; and he hastened to dress it. 8 And he took curd, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree, and they did eat. 9 And they said unto him: 'Where is Sarah thy wife?' And he said: 'Behold, in the tent.' 10 And He said: 'I will certainly return unto thee when the season cometh round; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son.' And Sarah heard in the tent door, which was behind him.-- 11 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, and well stricken in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.-- 12 And Sarah laughed within herself, saying: 'After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?' 13 And the LORD said unto Abraham: 'Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying: Shall I of a surety bear a child, who am old? 14 Is any thing too hard for the LORD. At the set time I will return unto thee, when the season cometh round, and Sarah shall have a son.' 15 Then Sarah denied, saying: 'I laughed not'; for she was afraid. And He said: 'Nay; but thou didst laugh.' 16 And the men rose up from thence, and looked out toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to bring them on the way. 17 And the LORD said: 'Shall I hide from Abraham that which I am doing; 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have known him, to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice; to the end that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which He hath spoken of him.' 20 And the LORD said: 'Verily, the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and, verily, their sin is exceeding grievous. 21 I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto Me; and if not, I will know.' 22 And the men turned from thence, and went toward Sodom; but Abraham stood yet before the LORD. 23 And Abraham drew near, and said: 'Wilt Thou indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? 24 Peradventure there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt Thou indeed sweep away and not forgive the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? 25 That be far from Thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked, that so the righteous should be as the wicked; that be far from Thee; shall not the Judge of all the earth do justly?' 26 And the LORD said: 'If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will forgive all the place for their sake.' 27 And Abraham answered and said: 'Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the LORD, who am but dust and ashes. 28 Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous; wilt Thou destroy all the city for lack of five?' And He said: 'I will not destroy it, if I find there forty and five.' 29 And he spoke unto Him yet again, and said: 'Peradventure there shall be forty found there.' And He said: 'I will not do it for the forty's sake.' 30 And he said: 'Oh, let not the LORD be angry, and I will speak. Peradventure there shall thirty be found there.' And He said: 'I will not do it, if I find thirty there.' 31 And he said: 'Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the LORD. Peradventure there shall be twenty found there.' And He said: 'I will not destroy it for the twenty's sake.' 32 And he said: 'Oh, let not the LORD be angry, and I will speak yet but this once. Peradventure ten shall be found there.' And He said: 'I will not destroy it for the ten's sake.' 33 And the LORD went His way, as soon as He had left off speaking to Abraham; and Abraham returned unto his place.

This is one of my favorite portions of Torah. A terebinth is a tree that grows in the desert and provides shade. Because living things need water, one would assume that a water supply could be found to nourish the tree.

Mamre is a region that lies halfway between Halhul, in the West Bank and Hebron.

Abraham is visited by The Lord as we are told in the first verse. In the second three men appear. As the text goes on we assume one or all of these is The Lord. Perhaps The Lord and Angels or maybe the three aspects of The Lord.

We know it is The Lord, as in the subsequent verses the name for The Lord in Hebrew is HaShem.

In the English version above we use the word "He" with a capital letter. If we were reading Hebrew text the text would replace "He" with the word HaShem. Because it is a common Jewish practice to restrict the use of the word Adonai to prayer only. In conversation, many Jewish people, even when not speaking Hebrew, will call God "Hashem", השם, which is Hebrew for "the Name".

Abraham immediately offers hospitality to the visitors. This is still a common practice not just for practicing Jews, but for Middle Eastern people. The nomadic tribes that still exist today in the Middle East and live in tents will invite a stranger to come in and sit with them in the shade and offer them drink and food, lodging and a chance to wash the sand off of their feet. In return you will be blessed. Abraham offers a morsel of bread and a little water, but instead prepares a huge feast for his visitors. I have always contemplated how long did it take to prepare all this food? A cake was made, a calf was killed, dressed and roasted not to mention that fire had to be started. I suppose the modern concept of time and rushing about is so different from our ancestors.

The Lord asks about Sarah. He tells Abraham that Sarah will give birth by next year when the Lord revists Abraham. We read that Sarah laughed within herself. She is 89 years old and we assume menopausal. She doesn't say anything aloud, but The Lord says, "Why did Sarah laugh? Is anything too hard for The Lord?"

Sarah denies laughing, but The Lord corrects her.

We read that immediately after this the men got up and looked toward Sodom, the home of Abraham's nephew Lot and Lot's family.

Then The Lord has a moment of private conversation with the men and puts forth the question, "Should I tell Abraham of My Plans to destroy Sodom and the five cities that encompass that region?" He decides to tell Abraham of His plans.

At this Abraham bargains with The Lord and finally The Lord says if there are 10 righteous people in the city, He will not destroy it for the ten's sake.

The Lord then goes His Way. But there will not be 10 righteous people found in any of the cities.

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