Avraham's Prayer for Sodom
INTRODUCTION TO PARASHA
In memory of Yakov
Yehuda ben Pinchas Wallach
and Miriam Wallach bat Tzvi Donner
By Rabbi Yaakov Beasley
parasha begins with the visit of three travelers to Avraham while he was
recuperating from his painful circumcision. Each traveler had a specific assignment:
one came to announce the future birth of Yitzchak, one to destroy
When Avraham bade his guests farewell several hours later, "Avraham stood yet before Hashem." Hashem had waited for him patiently. However, the Torah shares what Hashem considered while waiting:
Avraham respond to the Divine plan to execute justice on
As long as
And here the
Torah tells us something important about Abraham. If we had been in his place, we would
simply have prostrated ourselves and thanked God for destroying the kingdom of
evil so that our task would be simplified.
But Abraham pleaded for
B. WHAT WAS AVRAHAM ASKING?
Let us analyze
carefully the negotiations between Avraham and Hashem over
appeal for divine mercy on
We should be amazed by the inconsistencies in these prayers. In the beginning (v. 23), he prayed that Hashem not consume the righteous with the wicked. In the next verse, he requested that the righteous be able to save the wicked from their fate, even though he did not receive an answer to the first request. Finally (v. 25), he repeated his first request.
Avraham requesting justice for the righteous, or mercy for
Far be it from You And should you answer that the righteous are unable to save their wicked neighbors, how dare you kill [innocent] righteous people!
Two super-commentaries on Rashi argued as to how Rashi understood the exchange:
It is clear that a righteous person should not perish with the wicked; for that for that is the letter of the law. Avraham's only request was that the righteous serve as a defense for their wicked neighbors, and that required prayer. But basic justice, that righteous are not punished for the sins of the wicked, did not require Avraham's prayer.
In reality, Avraham did not pray for anything except that the righteous not perish, and that it why he stated, "Will You indeed consume the righteous with the wicked?" [This was said] in singular form, for not even one righteous should perish due to the sins of the wicked. The second verse comes to explain this request: Perhaps there are fifty righteous within the city, which argues that obviously they should be enough to save the city. But if they should not be enough in Your eyes to save the city from destruction, "Far be it from You to do after this manner," what Avraham mentioned in the previous verse, "to slay the righteous with the wicked." Therefore, he repeated himself in the final verse, "Far be it from You - shall not the Judge of all the earth act justly?" [To paraphrase the question -] Even if we accept that the righteous cannot save the wicked, it is not justice that they should save themselves?
David (attributed to R.
C. TTHE INSCRUTABILITY OF DIVINE JUSTICE
The conversation is further remarkable in its success in distracting the reader from the fundamental moral issue Avraham began with "Will you destroy the righteous with the wicked?" Avraham asked two questions of Hashem where is the justice in punishing innocents for the sins of the guilty, and how many innocents would it require to attain atonement for society as a whole? Upon arriving at the number ten, Hashem abruptly cuts off communication, as we read:
Hashem went His way, having concluding (Hebrew kh.l.h.) speaking to Abraham. (18:33)
in Hebrew mean to end or to complete.
What is the significance of the root word kh.l.h.? In his commentary to Sefer
Devarim, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda
And Moshe concluded (Va-yekhal) saying these words to all of Yisrael (32:45): And the wording "And Moshe concluded" signifies [that Moshe was engaged in providing] explanations and interpretations of what he taught the people, and the questions multiplied until, finally, Moshe said, "Enough!"
In other words, the root kh.l.h. implies concluding - not as a completion, but as an interruption. Moshe could not have completed teaching the Torah to the Jewish people, for it is an endless as the sea. Similarly, the description of the Shabbat begins "Va-Yekhulu and the creation of the heavens and the earth was completed (Bereishit 2:1). In reality, Hashem refrained from creating more, and Jewish thought teaches us that it is man's purpose to assist in its completion. In our episode, we see that Hashem concluded the conversation abruptly, without returning to Avraham's original question. "Will you destroy the righteous with the wicked?" remains unanswered for, indeed, when punishment comes upon society, both innocent and guilty perish together.
D. AVRAHAM'S EDUCATION
Rereading the episode, we come away with the distinct impression that Hashem had orchestrated the entire encounter for the specific purpose of instructing Avraham in the ways of divine justice. Let us look again at Hashem's opening words:
17 And Hashem said: "Shall I hide from Avraham that which I am doing;
18 seeing that Avraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?
19 For I have known him, to the end that he may command his children and his household after him, that they may keep the way of Hashem, to do righteousness and justice; to the end that Hashem may bring upon Avraham that which He hath spoken of him."
For the first
time, Hashem refers to Avraham not as an individual or the head of a
family, but as the founder of a people "Shall I hide from Avraham that which I
am doing, seeing that Avraham shall surely become a great and mighty
" Until now, the Torah has
concerned itself with Avraham's personal righteousness; now, the focus is how
Avraham will serve as the political head of a nation whose purpose it is to
instruct the world in righteousness and justice. Therefore, presumably within Avraham's
hearing, Hashem speaks aloud "Indeed, the cry of
As we noted, Avraham immediately initiates the conversation, "Will You indeed consume the righteous with the wicked?" It is a bold challenge. However, it suffers from one deficiency; Avraham's challenge begins with the issue of personal justice doesn't each person get what he or she deserves? Only then is there an allusion to the fate of the wicked and how their destruction can be prevented due to the presence of the righteous.
In contrast, Hashem is much more interested with the city than with the individuals. The cities' behavior caused Him to investigate. However, to bring Avraham to this understanding, Hashem also subtly changes the frame of reference of the discussion. Avraham asks Hashem "to forgive the place for the fifty righteous within." Hashem responds, "I will forgive all the place for the fifty." In the next exchange, Avraham repeats the word all, but continues to place the focus on the righteous "will you destroy all the city for the lack of five?" Avraham's emphasis is the lack of five from the fifty. Hashem does not word His promise as one not to destroy the city due to the lack of five, but instead, because of the positive presence of forty-five righteous men. From here on, Avraham accepts the correction. He thinks in terms of the saving remnant, and the effect that they have on others. Like Hashem, Avraham begins to understand that justice is more than the sum total of individual acts of righteousness. Now, the discussion is framed in terms of discussion of an entire city. Justice for a city, or a nation, overrides strict justice for each individual; instead, what matters is the effect that these individuals have on others. A community stands or falls together one man of virtue is not sufficient.
The Torah therefore emphasizes not Avraham's individual merits, but that "he will instruct his household." To ensure that values are spread, its values require education and transmission. The lesson could not be more timely, as Avraham and Sarah were just informed of Yitzchak's birth. With Yitzchak's impending birth, Avraham will become not just a father, but a founder. As such, he must learn to widen his view to see the divine perspective.?php // Pass in TRUE if you do not want a sidebar. // Pass in FALSE (or leave it blank WriteFooter(); to have a sidebar WriteFooter(); ?>