How to Stand Like a Mensch

November 14th, 2005 by Adina

ויקח חמאה וחלב, ובן-הבקר אשר עשה, ויתן, לפניהם; והוא-עמד עליהם תחת העץ, ויאכלו
And he (Avraham) took butter and milk and the calf that he had prepared and placed it before them (the angels), and he stoof before them (lit. “over them”) under the tree, and they ate

Bereishit 18:8

In the verse cited above, what does the word עליהם – over them, imply? Why is Avraham standing over the angels?

The Kedushat Levi explains why Avraham is standing, “omed” in a beautiful way. He explains that it is part of hosting guests and performing the mitzva of hachnassat orchim, not to have airs, nor to put onself at a higher stature than one’s guest, so that the guests feel comfortable and welcome.

The Kedushat Levi goes on to explain that it is well known that a tzaddik (“righteous person”) is referred to as a “holech”, someone who walks, since he is continually moving, growing and raising himself up to higher levels from time to time. In contrast to this, a malach , or angel, is called an “omed,” one who stands, since the angel remains all the time at a fixed place of holiness. (In Kedusha of the repetition of the Amidah prayer, we try to emulate angels by keeping our feet together, maintaining a high level of holiness, but literally incapable of walking with a symbolic “regel achat,” one leg). This concept of walking versus standing can be seen in a passuk in Zechariah 3:7 – “And I have given you walkers among these who are standing (referring to the angels)”. Therefore, when the three angels came to Avraham he did not want to appear on a higher plane than them, so he acted as if on their level (the level of an angel), as an “omed”, one who stands. Avraham changed to become an “omed aleihem”, as the Kedushat Levi understands this phrase to mean that Avraham acted on their madregah, “bishvilam” – for them, for their comfort.

Another question for anyone brave enough to comment: Why are the angels under a tree? And not just any tree, but the tree…


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