Abraham saw 3 angels [Gen. 18:2]. Lot saw 2 [Gen. 19:1]. Only 1 angel stopped Abraham from killing Isaac [Gen. 22:11]. Only 1 angel fought all night with Jacob [Gen. 32:25].

What is the significance of the different number of angels? Why isn't one angel sufficient for all missions?

2 Answers 2


Rashi, in his commentary to Bereishis 19:1 tells us:

שני TWO — One to destroy Sodom, the other to rescue Lot — it was he who had come to heal Abraham — whilst the third, who had come to make the announcement to Sarah, had departed as soon as he had carried out his mission (Midrash Tanchuma, Vayera 8).

Aish has a really nice explanation in which exactly your question is asked. It offers the following solution, based on the Rashi mentioned above.

Why did three angels come to Abraham, but only two go to Lot?

The answer is that since Michael's sole mission was to tell Sarah she would become pregnant, he had no business in Sodom. Therefore, upon leaving Abraham's tent he went back to his post at God's Holy Throne. But Gabriel, who was left with his task of destroying Sodom, and Raphael, who was commanded to save Lot, had not yet finished their tasks, and continued to Sodom. (Rashi - Genesis 19:1 and 9:16)

So, each angel has a task. Each situation needs a certain approach. If a certain approach is not suitable for that situation, the angel will not accompany the other angels.

Edit: and all of this can be applied to the teaching of the Maharal in his Gur Aryeh, which @RabbiKaii brought down below. Thanks RabbiKaii!

  • But then, according to this logic, Abraham and Sarah needed to see only one angel -- to tell Sarah she would have a son. And Lot also only needed to see one angel -- the one who saved him and his family. And no one needed to see the third angel, who would destroy Sodom -- God told Abraham directly it would happen [Gen. 18:17]. So the question still stands. Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 3:00

There is a concept that each angel can only be assigned one task. See Gur Aryeh on Bereshit 18:2.

Shmuel answered the significance, and the answer to your second question about why one isn't sufficient; it is, but there's another problem:

Gur Aryeh gives the reason that the name of the angel is a reference to its mission, so therefore it can only have one mission. There are also those who claim it is beneath Hashem's dignity to assign two missions to one angel:

ושמות המלאכים הוא לפי השליחות שנשתלחו

The names of angels go according to the mission they have been assigned.

ויש מפרשים מפני שאין זה כבודו של מקום שיהיה משתמש במלאך אחד שני דברים – כאילו היה חסר שלוחים"

There are commentaries who say that it is because it's not fitting for Hashem's honour that He should use one messenger for two things, as if He has a lack of messengers

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