"G‑d appeared to him [Abraham]." (Gen. 18:1)

In the original Hebrew phrase, G‑d's name appears last, literally reading: "Appeared to him G‑d".

Why is Abraham, the subject of the vision, mentioned before G‑d? The normal construction would have been "appeared G‑d to him". In the previous visions Abraham received, G‑d is always referred to first (compare 12:7 and 17:1). Why does the Torah not mention the nature of this vision, the subject matter discussed, etc.? Our sages in Talmud (Baba Metzia 86) say that G‑d simply paid Abraham a visit, seeing the latter was still recovering from the effects of the circumcision. While this is a nice explanation, there is not a hint of this in the text.

Now that Abraham was circumcised, he was able to absorb a vision of G‑d in His superior light….

I believe that the message to Abraham was that henceforth G‑d's presence would rest on him on a permanent basis. In Kabbalistic terms, Abraham had now become a "carrier of the Shechina". The present form of address indicates that G‑d's presence became felt by Abraham. Had the Torah used the usual wording we could not have become aware that G‑d distinguishes between revelation itself and the One who reveals Himself. It is because of this that Abraham's future visions are never again introduced by the word for "appeared" ["veyera"]. We find only: "G‑d spoke to Abraham". This is a reminder he already wore the "crown" indicating that G‑d's presence was upon him.

The term "He appeared to him" also alludes to the letter yud of G‑d's name becoming visible on Abraham's flesh as mentioned in Tanchuma 96 and Zohar I:95: "When the holy imprint rests on someone, this means that G‑d's presence rests on that person."

The message is also that now that Abraham was circumcised, he was able to absorb a vision of G‑d in His superior light. Not all became privy to a prophetic vision in the full sense of that word. He was able to absorb the full Four-Letter Name of G‑d [Havayah]. We would not have understood this if the Torah had written: "And G‑d appeared to Abraham" [in that order].

[Selected with permission from the five-volume English edition of "Ohr HaChaim: the Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar" by Eliyahu Munk.]