By Rav David Silverberg
Parashat Vayera begins with God appearing to Avraham “as he sat by the entrance of the tent at the heat of the day,” which was followed by the arrival of the three angels who informed him that Sara would be soon bearing him a son. We make mention of this event in one of the hymns traditionally recited at the seder on Pesach (in the Diaspora, it is recited on the second night), “Va-amartem Zevach Pesach.” This hymn, which was composed by Elazar Ha-kalir, lists numerous Biblical events which, according to Midrashic tradition, took place on Pesach. One of these events is God’s visit to Avraham and the arrival of the three angels, which tradition teaches occurred on the date that would later be designated as the festival of Pesach. Elazar Ha-kalir writes in describing God’s revelation to Avraham, “Delatav dafakta ke-chom ha-yom ba-Pesach” – “You knocked upon his doors at the heat of the day, on Pesach.”
While the anthropomorphic image of God “knocking” upon Avraham’s doors may simply be a poetic way of describing His visit to the patriarch, nevertheless, it is perhaps worthwhile to consider the possible implications of this description. Generally, this imagery is used in reference to somebody begging to enter a place where he is not necessarily invited or welcome. In Shir Hashirim (5:2), for example, the maiden describes how her beloved knocked on her door in the middle of the night as she slept, begging her to open it and allow him in, but she lazily refused to rise from her bed. Similarly, we open our Selichot prayers by crying, “We have knocked upon Your doors, O compassionate and gracious One; please, do not turn us back empty handed from You.” We acknowledge that we are unworthy of coming before the Almighty to ask for His forgiveness, and we therefore meekly “knock” on His “door” in the hopes that in His unlimited compassion and grace, He will let us in and allow us to pour out our hearts before Him. With this in mind, we might wonder if perhaps there is significance to Elazar Ha-kalir’s choice of imagery in depicting Avraham’s prophetic vision. Why would God be described as “knocking” on Avraham’s “door”? Did He have to beg Avraham to “let Him in”? Is there any reason why God would have to “knock”?
Possibly, this imagery expresses the idea that God never comes into a person’s life without his “opening the door.” Even Avraham Avinu did not receive prophecy automatically, passively, without exerting effort. When God came to speak to him, he needed to “open the door,” to work actively to facilitate the prophetic vision. He could not remain passive and just listen; he needed to make an effort to hear and internalize the divine word. The message, then, is that our relationship with God will always require proactive effort. Inspiration is never received passively or easily. If we want to build and maintain a deep, meaningful connection with the Almighty, we need to “open the door,” to invest effort to allow Him into our lives, without expecting this to happen on its own.
Originally appears on VBM