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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Va'yera (5762)

Genesis 18:2

Abraham, after his circumcision, is visited by three strangers.

"He lifted up his eyes and saw and behold three men were standing near him. Etc."


And behold three men: RASHI: One to foretell to Sarah (about Isaac's birth) and one to overturn Sodom and one to heal Abraham, because one angel cannot accomplish two missions. Be aware that this is so, because in the entire parashah they are mentioned in the plural "and they ate" "and they said to him" However when the good tidings [of Sarah's birth] are delivered, it says "And he said 'I will return'" And at the overturning of Sodom it says: "For I can do nothing." "I will not overturn...." Raphael, who healed Abraham went from there to rescue Lot. As it says: "When they brought them out, he said 'Escape for your life.'" Which teaches you that (only) one was involved in the rescue.


Rashi shows us that these three angels each had his own mission to fulfill. He then adds that there is a principle that an angel can do only one task. He then goes on to prove this by citing verses from the text which show than a singular angle did each of the missions.


This simple looking Rashi is actually quite complicated. Do you see the complications? Begin by asking the basic question of Rashi.

Your Question:


An Answer: Rashi lets us know what's bothering him, by pointing out that the verse switches from plural to singular. He finds method in it. The plural refers to the group; the singular refers to the individual angel when he goes about accomplishing his specific task.

But as look closer at this comment what else would you ask?

Your Question:


A Question: Rashi shows us that each of the missions was accomplished by only one angel. But that only proves that a mission is not done by two angels! It does not prove that one angel cannot do two missions, which is what Rashi claimed.

Furthermore: Rashi seems to contradict himself. For he says that the very same angel that healed Abraham also saved Lot. So here we have one angel doing two separate missions.

Do you have any answers? Let's take the second question first, it is easier.

Your Answer;


An Answer to the second question: It has been suggested that Rashi would agree that an angel can do two missions, if they are not done simultaneously and if they are of a similar nature. So healing Abraham and saving Lot are certainly similar missions, both are "life saving" efforts (pikuach nefesh). And they were also not done at the same time, first Abraham and only later rescuing Lot.

But what about our first question? The verses Rashi quotes only show that two angels do not do the same mission, but they don't prove that an angel can only do one mission.

This is difficult. Think analytically.

Your Answer:


An Answer: Notice the last part of Rashi's comment. As it says: "When they brought them out, he said 'Escape for your life.' Which teaches you that (only) one was involved in the rescue."

Actually, Rashi needed only quote the last words "he said 'Escape for your life." The singular "he said" is all we needed. Why did Rashi quote the first part "When they brought them out"?

This shows us Rashi's subtle logic. He is telling us that if there were at least two angels who took Lot outside why didn't they also save him? Why was the task given over to just one angel? You may say, because two angels cannot do the same mission. (As we had said above.) We still don't see that one angel cannot do two tasks. But why then, Rashi implicitly asks, did we need two angels? Let the same angel who destroys the city can also save Lot? But nevertheless we did have two separate angels. Ipso facto! We see from this Rashi's point: that an angel cannot do two different tasks. We needed two to do the two separate missions; One to destroy Sodom and one to save Lot.


We have analyzed Rashi's comment that one angel can do only one mission. But we can ask, why is this so? Angels are superhuman and are not limited as are humans. Why can't they be created in such a way that would allow them to accomplish two things at one time?

The explanation that I heard from my Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, ZT"L is the following. An angel is a messenger from Hashem. It is not some cherubic looking, winged, being. The mission IS the angel. The fact that Abraham was healed WAS the angel. It was that power from G-d that healed Abraham which is referred to an angel, or more correctly, as a messenger "malach." The mission IS the power of G-d IS the angel. So by definition, an angel cannot do two tasks not because he is limited but because that is the definition of an angel - THE TASK ITSELF. That is also why the same angel that healed Abraham could also save Lot, because it was the same Divine power that worked in both cases. That power IS the angel.

Shabbat Shalom
Avigdor Bonchek

Announcement: Rabbi Dr. Bonchek will be in the States in the month of Feb. 02. Congregations, schools organizations interested in a lecture or series of lectures can contact our email address. msbonch@mscc.huji.ac.il

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the "Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Torah Commentaries." Queries can be sent to msbonch@mscc.huji.ac.il The Institute is in the process of preparing the Devarim volume of "What's Bothering Rashi?" This volume will feature Rashi and The Ba'alei Tosephos. Readers interested in sponsoring a sedra in this volume are encouraged to contact us for further

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