In what manner / How, did Hashem appear to Avraham at Mamre? (Gen 18:1)

We read in Gen 18:1 וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו יְהוָה, בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא; וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב פֶּתַח-הָאֹהֶל, כְּחֹם הַיּוֹם.

And Hashem/The LORD, appeared to him by the oaks/terebrinths of mamre, and he sat by the opening of the tent during the heat of the day.

We see then three men (Shlosha Anashim), approach Avraham(18:2). In v22 The men leave, Avraham continued standing before Hashem.

Hashem says he will go down (To sodom). Also(v23) Avraham drew near(to the LORD/Hashem), and he spoke to him.

So I don't think anybody can claim based on the text, that God appeared in any human form, and judaism doesn't make that claim so that's fine. Furthermore, while Avraham does bow to the ground to greet the men(vayishtechu artzah v2), so too David bows like that to Jonathan(artzah vayishechu) 1 Sam 20:41. So one can't read too much into a bow or such a bow. i.e. the bow doesn't indicate that the men are God in any way, though they are perhaps messengers from God.

And afterwards, (v33) Hashem went.. ..וַיֵּלֶךְ יְהוָה

But it does leave open the question - in what manner did God appear to Avraham?

So Hashem had not yet come down to Sodom. And assuming he hadn't come down, then it seems he appeared to Avraham in a vision. If so, do we have any traditions about what that vision was?

Or just generally any traditions or opinions on the nature of this appearance that Hashem made to Avraham?

Note- There is something else that I had not noticed before. And it may also explain why some rabbinical commentators consider this to be a vision rather than a literal event. (note, Gen 18 and Gen 19 have a good selection of variations of Adonai to look at), When there is a kamatz on the nun of ADNY, it's a name, a proper noun, for Hashem. (Putting ADNY aside for a moment), many translations distinguish things well with the word Lord/LORD/lord(s), by writing LORD for the tetragrammaton, (back to ADNY), Lord for Adonai with a kamatz. There is ADNY with a patach, adonay (lords), which is rare. And adonee for my lord. So the English distiguishes very clearly with the capital l, LORD, and Lord and lowercase 'l', lord(s). (And of course God and gods for elohim). Given that, there are two things here..

The main thing I recently noticed in Gen 18, is the kamatz on Adonai, so a man(or what was referred to as a man), is addressed with Adonai(with kamatz).

The other thing, which I don't think is that significant I couldn't find a Jewish link listing all the tikkunei sofrim(emendations of the scribes), but these links https://levendwater.org/companion/append32.html http://www.oocities.org/hebrew_roots/html/hr-2-1-02.html mention 134 compiled by Ginsberg, and Gen 18:3 is one, where according to those links, the tetragrammaton was changed to Adonai(i.e. Adonai with kamatz) it's not that significant in terms of meaning because it still means the same thing, Lord with a capital L, be it LORD(the tetragrammaton) or Lord(the name, Adonai with a kamatz).

Another thing I hadn't noticed is in Gen 19:1, it says 2 messengers came to sodom. That suggests that in the earlier Gen 18:22 when it said the men left to sodom, it was only two that left, and one remained.

  • my personal understanding changes the reading of the verse slightly and is that Avraham was able to perceive Hashem's presence as the heat of the day.
    – rosends
    Jan 20, 2019 at 16:30
  • @rosends do you think the subject sitting is God?
    – barlop
    Jan 20, 2019 at 17:16
  • No -- Avraham is sitting.
    – rosends
    Jan 20, 2019 at 18:54
  • @rosends ok so no controversy re your understanding of 'hoo'. Why would you presume that God's presence was connected to something as mundane as the heat of the day? (the fact that both occur in the same sentence seems like a weak connection), and certainly not pshat.
    – barlop
    Jan 20, 2019 at 22:42
  • that's precisely what I see to be such a statement of Avrtaham's greatness -- perceiving the divine in the apparently mundane. I could compare it to "v'al nisecha sheb'chol yom imanu". They are there if we are able to perceive them.
    – rosends
    Jan 20, 2019 at 22:54

3 Answers 3


This is answered directly by G-d to Moshe. It appears in parshat V'Era (Shemot 6:2-3) which says:

וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר אֱלֹהִ֖ים אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֵלָ֖יו אֲנִ֥י יְהוָֽה׃ ג וָאֵרָ֗א אֶל־אַבְרָהָ֛ם אֶל־יִצְחָ֥ק וְאֶֽל־יַעֲקֹ֖ב בְּאֵ֣ל שַׁדָּ֑י וּשְׁמִ֣י יְהוָ֔ה לֹ֥א נוֹדַ֖עְתִּי לָהֶֽם׃

Both the angels and the appearance of G-d were not material, physical beings in the encounter you cite. They were a vision that Avraham had during one of his meditations while sitting at the mouth of his tent (which may also have a meditative connotation). And just as G-d tells Moshe later, He revealed Himself to Avraham via His name, El Shaddai.


Rashi on the Chumash speaks of it in terms of a revelation of the Shechinah. The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim describes the whole experience, including the visiting angels, as a prophetic vision. (Rambam holds that the angels did not actually physically come to Avraham's tent, and in fact, in his view, such a thing is not even possible -- see what he writes in the first chapters of Hilchos Yesodei Hatorah about angels). Either way you look at it, this was a transcendental event that cannot be described in ordinary, everyday terms. Whenever a person "sees" something that has no physical substance or form, by definition it is a transcendental event.

  • if it's a vision wouldn't the angels appear as something less mundane than men?
    – barlop
    Jan 20, 2019 at 22:56
  • Prophetic visions are quite varied, as we see from the Tanach. The prophetic message can be transmitted in a very wide variety of visual forms, where the symbolic meaning is the real point.
    – shmu
    Jan 21, 2019 at 5:58
  • I was asking more about the God part rather than the 3 men/angels/messengers of God, part. He stood before God/Hashem and spoke with him even after the three men left.
    – barlop
    Jan 22, 2019 at 14:01
  • Right. So as for the G-d part, I think you could characterize it as a revelation of the Shechinah.
    – shmu
    Jan 22, 2019 at 19:09
  • The 2 messengers visit Lot in Sodom, in Ch 19, and if we are to presume that they are the same men that left Avraham to go to sodom in Ch 18, then wouldn't that make much of the Lot story non-literal? (and the Lot story where he offers his daughters for the men to know them rather than them doing wicked with his visitors, doesn't seem like a prophetic vision, as not only is it the present, it isn't really becoming of a divine vision, it seems like the unfortunate reality around Lot)
    – barlop
    Mar 17, 2019 at 0:19

I think a possible interpretation is that G-d used a malaach / appeared to Avraham through a malaach, and that's what Avraham saw. Perhaps one can understand the word malaach as more of an agent, than a messenger. And the bible often uses the language of agency in relation to malaachim.

e.g. the Lord will destroy sodom, and the Malaachim do.

And you can have a malach that carries God's name.

Just like

Ex 23:20 “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. 21 Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. "

So Gen 18 says 3 men. One of them continues speaking to Avraham, two had left.

Gen 19:1 mentions the two malaachim that left.

So when the torah says men there in Gen 18, it may meant appearing as men, and may have been not just two malaachim, but three malaachim. One of them, the one addressed as Adonai, was a malaach that carried G-d's name.

A non-judaism interpretation might be that there were only two malaachim, and the third person was a man that G-d appeared as, but I think that'd be quite radical.

I think it's pretty reasonable to say there were 3 malaachim, they appeared as men. One of them carried G-d's name and therefore was addressed as such.

  • I think Rashi's understanding is that there were 3 malaachim and G-d, but not that G-d spoke through a malaach.. though i'm not sure how he explains the adonai with kamatz reference near the beginning
    – barlop
    May 29, 2019 at 19:49

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