Parashat Vayeira begins with the story of the angels’ visit to Avraham’s tent, from where they then proceeded to Sedom to bring Lot and his family out of the city and then bring about its destruction. After telling about the angels’ visit with Avraham, the Torah writes that they “turned from there and went towards Sedom, while Avraham was still standing before the Lord” (18:22). The Torah then relates that God informed Avraham of his decision to destroy the sinful city of Sedom.
Many commentators struggled to explain this verse, which clearly implies that Avraham had been “standing before the Lord,” which does not appear to have been the case. Avraham until now was tending to his guests, and now God came to speak to him about His plans for Sedom. What, then, does the Torah mean when it says that “Avraham was still standing before the Lord”?
Rashi explains that this description relates to the previous verses, which tell of God reaching the decision to destroy Sedom: “The Lord said: The cry of Sedom and Amora has become great, and their sin has become very weighty…” The text does not explicitly state that God spoke these words to Avraham, but Rashi understands that He did. Then, the Torah tells that the angels left, while Avraham was still receiving prophecy from God.
The Radak explains this verse based on his general approach to this first section of Parashat Vayeira. Following the famous and controversial position of the Rambam (Guide for the Perplexed, 2:43, cited and critiqued by the Ramban to 18:1), the Radak contends that this entire episode of the three angels’ visit to Avraham did not actually happen, but was rather a prophetic vision. The Radak writes (18:1) that as Avraham sat outside his tent in the hot sun, he fell asleep, and beheld a prophetic dream of three angels whom he welcomed and who informed him that he would beget a child, before proceeding to Sedom. After telling us that Avraham saw in his vision the angels leaving and heading towards Sedom, the Torah then writes that Avraham “was still standing before the Lord” – meaning, his prophecy continued, with God speaking to him and sharing with him His decision to annihilate the city of Sedom.
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains much differently. In his view, this verse hearkens back to the very first words of the parasha – “The Lord appeared to him in the plains of Mamrei, as he sat at the entrance to the tent in the heat of the day.” According to Rav Hirsch, God appeared to Avraham before the three angels arrived in order to inform him of His plans to destroy Sedom, but this prophecy was interrupted when Avraham spotted the angels – thinking they were wayfarers – and ran to greet them. Now, after the angels left, the Torah tells us, “Avraham was still standing before the Lord.” Rav Hirsch explains: “…with all his activity in exercising hospitality Abraham had not gone away from the amida lifnei Hashem [standing before the Lord] to which he had been called…” The Torah here emphasizes that although Avraham was busy tending to his guests, he was still “standing before the Lord.” When he took leave of God to welcome the wayfarers, he remained cognizant of God’s presence. All throughout this flurry of activity, Avraham was mindful of the fact that God had come to speak to him, and as soon as the angels left, he listened to what God wished to tell him, as though He had never left the presence of the Almighty.