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וישא עיניו וירא והנה שלשה אנשים נצבים עליו, וירא וירץ לקראתם מפתח האהל וישתחו ארצה

He [Avraham] lifted his eyes and saw: and behold!, three men were standing upon him, and he saw and ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and bowed toward the ground.

Our forefather Avraham, convalescing in front of his tent from his circumcision which had taken place three days earlier, observes three men nearing his tent and rushes out to greet them. “Behold!,” tells the Torah, “three men were standing upon him”.

While the narrative is most inspiring, -not three days after undergoing a most painful operation at the age of ninety-nine, Avraham actively seeks out guests on a sweltering day and jumps at the opportunity to wait on them- some of the verbiage is difficult to understand.

Firstly, what is the implication of three men “standing upon him”? Was it not Avraham who stood and waited upon them, rather than vice versa? Wouldn’t it make more sense to say that they were standing “before him”? Additionally, why does the Torah repeat the fact that Avraham saw them- “He lifted his eyes and saw: and behold!, three men were standing upon him, and he saw and ran toward them”-, twice? What didn’t Avraham see upon lifting his eyes originally, that he suddenly did observe before running towards them?

In trademark fashion, Sfas Emes offers the following fascinating interpretation: What Avraham saw was three individuals whose entire future stood upon his willingness to show them the light. Avraham saw three men standing upon him, reaching heights well beyond their own capacity solely because of the shoulders he could offer them to climb upon, and that was an opportunity he simply could not pass up, personal agony notwithstanding. Under regular circumstances, perhaps simply knowing that he could positively influence these individuals would suffice as impetus to give it a try. Under the current circumstances, however, only the knowledge that their success hinged entirely upon him, and nobody but himself could possibly give them the necessary lift, provided him with the superhuman strength to give it his all, lest he forever fail them.

Apparently, we dare add, this recognition was two-tiered: At first, as the verse states, Avraham saw three men “standing upon him”; three men whose future he knew depended upon his lending himself to them so that they may achieve their full potential. Undoubtedly, an obligating observation in and of itself. Upon deeper reflection, however, Avraham “saw” that very sentiment again in far more penetrating fashion; a vision which all but forced him to run towards them in a mad dash. These were not three men whom God was asking him to place upon his shoulders, Avraham now realized; these were men whom God had already placed upon his shoulders, and unless he ran after them and held them tight, they would tumble to the ground and become crippled for life, entirely due to his own recklessness. Three men were “standing upon him”, and the gravity of their destiny had been placed in his hands. How dare he cut them loose, severing the last strand of hope which connected them with eternity!?!

We are all Avraham. We all have situations and futures (not the least of which is our own), whose success depend entirely upon our willingness to take responsibility for them and connect them with their true destiny. And that, in and of itself, is a sobering thought indeed. Yet the truth runs far deeper than that. God has already positioned us as wires connecting the power grid of Creation so that it may fuel all that was meant to be. How dare we allow petty difficulties to blow our fuse, short-circuiting all of Creation simply because we are too irresponsible to care?

Even more sobering?


Yet isn’t it also uplifting to know that we don’t need to create some nonexistent void and then try to fill it, just to make ourselves useful? Is it not inspiring to know that there are things already “standing upon us” hoping that we don’t fail, and Someone trusting that we indeed won’t?

If there is one thing we learn from Avraham, it is this:

Being accountable, makes all things surmountable. If I am responsible, failure’s impossible. For how can I fail, and thereby derail, all that God planned, and placed in my hand, simply because, I think myself small, when God clearly doesn’t, think so at all!?!

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