At the end of this week’s Torah portion, we read about the binding of Yitzchak. The verse (Bereishit 22:1) says, “And it came to pass, after these things, that G-d tested Avraham ….” The Gemara (Sanhedrin 89b) asks. “After what things?” and goes on to describe how the Satan complained to HaKadosh Baruch Hu that with all the feasts that Avraham made to celebrate the birth of Yitzchak, none was brought as a korban todah, a thanksgiving offering. In this shiur we are going to prove this claim to be false.

The parsha begins with Avraham being visited by the three angels. Which three angels? R’ Bachye (Bereishit 18:2) says it was Michael – to inform Sarah that she will give birth to Yitzchak (and also to save Lot from Sodom); Rafael – to cure Avraham from the brit milah; and Gavriel – to destroy Sodom.


The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 48:9) adds an interesting and vital piece of information to the above. The three angels appeared in three different “disguises.” The first was dressed as an Arab nomad, the second as a baker, and the third as a ship’s captain. Why the “costumes?” The sefer Zerah Barech (Vayeira, pg. 28) says that the world is divided into three (unequal) parts – uninhabited wilderness, civilization, and the sea. The angel dressed as the Arab nomad represents the wilderness, the angel dressed as a baker represents civilization (bread being the staple food of civilization), and the angel dressed as a ship’s captain represents the sea. The Midrash Tanchuma (Vayeira 18) says that these were the three angels who objected to Hashem creating Adam because he would sin. Hashem now brought these three angels to show them the true purpose for which He created the world – for Avraham.

The beginning of our parsha describes the lavish meal that Avraham prepared for his guests, a vast amount of bread, matzos, calf tongues in mustard sauce, etc. We explored the content of this meal in a previous shiur.

When one examines the various elements in this episode, certain things catch the eye. The first is that there are four main “characters” – the three angels and Avraham. Secondly, there is much emphasis placed on making matzos (uggot), with Avraham entering Sarah’s tent and issuing specific instructions on how to make them. Surely Sarah knew how to make bread? She was the cook, not Avraham.

Those facts alone should be enough to set off a red light, but when you add the three angels’ names and their disguises, it is like a bell loudly clanging.

The Gemara (Brachot 54b) says that there are four categories of people who are required to bring a korban todah. Someone who safely returns from a journey in the desert; someone who was seriously ill and recovered; someone who safely returns from a voyage at sea; and finally, someone who was imprisoned and set free.

If you look beneath the surface of the story of the three angels visiting Avraham and the feast he served them, you will see it is a replica of a korban todah.

First, the four categories of those who are obligated to bring a korban todah are echoed by our four characters above. Michael, dressed as an Arab nomad, reflects the first category – someone who safely returns from a journey in the desert. Rafael, dressed as a baker (we will soon see why), who came to cure Avraham, reflects the second category – someone who was seriously ill and recovered. Gavriel, dressed as a ship’s captain, reflects the third category – someone who safely returns from a voyage at sea. Finally, Avraham reflects the fourth category, someone who was imprisoned and set free (we will also soon see why).

To fill in the blanks we need to skip forward to the Exodus from Egypt.

Our Sages say that Am Yisrael’s guardian angel is Michael. When Am Yisrael reached the Red Sea with the Egyptians in hot pursuit, Hashem commanded Michael to stand as a “wall of fire” between Am Yisrael and the Egyptians (Pirkei d’Rebi Eliezer chap. 42). Michael continued to accompany and protect Am Yisrael throughout their forty-year journey in the desert.

The angel Gavriel is also featured in the Exodus. The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni A, 243) says that as Am Yisrael was about to cross the Red Sea, the guardian angel of Egypt objected, saying to Hashem – “These (the Egyptians) and also these (Am Yisrael) are idol worshippers. Why should Am Yisrael be allowed to pass, while the Egyptians drown?” Gavriel flew back to Egypt and brought evidence of the atrocities the Egyptians had perpetrated against Am Yisrael – cementing children in the foundations of the buildings and drowning the firstborn in the Nile River. Gavriel then overturned the sea and the Egyptians drowned.

Similarly, here with Avraham, Michael’s role is to be protector of Am Yisrael. Michael comes to inform Sarah of the birth of Yitzchak, the continuation of Avraham’s bloodline, and also to save Lot – the ancestor of Mashiach, David HaMelech. As Gavriel played a role of turmoil and destruction with the Egyptians in the Red Sea, here too he comes to overturn Sodom with fire and brimstone.

Two questions remain: Why was Rafael, who came to cure Avraham, dressed as a baker? Why does Avraham reflect the category of a prisoner who has been set free?

Again, we need to skip to the Exodus. When Am Yisrael left Egypt, Hashem gave them Mann (also called Lechem Abirim – bread of the ‘noble ones,’ angels) to eat, and this “bread from Heaven” cured all the ailments and disabilities they incurred during their slavery in Egypt. For this reason, Rafael came dressed as a baker.

By undergoing brit milah, Avraham was akin to a prisoner being set free. Avraham was the atonement for Adam HaRishon, who was born circumcised, but by virtue of his sin, acquired a foreskin. This was repaired by Avraham and “set him free” from Adam’s sin.

The meal included a vast amount of bread, including matzos, reminiscent of the 40 loaves of the korban todah (30 of which are matzos). Also included were three calf tongues, the animal component of the korban todah.

So, Avraham did in fact bring a korban todah to celebrate Yitzchak’s birth – when Michael informed them that Yitzchak was to be born, and therefore the Satan’s claim is false.

Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: When Avraham “negotiates” with Hashem to save Sodom, he cites numbers 50, 45, 40, 30, 20 and 10. Why does Avraham stop at ten?

Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: What were the consequences of Avraham asking Hashem for a sign (Bereishit 15:8) that he would indeed inherit the Land of Israel as promised? Hashem punished Avraham’s “lack of faith” with his descendants having to endure slavery in Egypt for 400 years (Bereishit 15:13).


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Eliezer Meir Saidel ([email protected]) is Managing Director of research institute Machon Lechem Hapanim and owner of the Jewish Baking Center which researches and bakes traditional Jewish historical and contemporary bread. His sefer “Meir Panim” is the first book dedicated entirely to the subject of the Lechem Hapanim.