Parashas Vayeira

In this week’s parashah, among many events, we read about the destruction of Sodom. The Torah relates that Hashem told Avraham about His plan to destroy Sodom. The Torah then records Avraham’s response (Bereishis 18:23–25):
Will You yet wipe out the righteous with the wicked? Perhaps there are fifty righteous men in the midst of the city – will You yet wipe it out, and not show the place favor, for the sake of the fifty righteous men within it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to put to death the righteous along with the wicked, so that the righteous will be treated like the wicked. Far be it from You: Shall the Judge of the entire world not do justice?
Analyzing Avraham’s words, the Maggid notes a glaring point: Initially, Avraham’s appeal focused exclusively on the righteous men of Sodom – he argued only against wiping out the righteous along with the wicked. But right afterward he urged that the entire city be spared on account of the righteous men, even though they might be few. Various commentators have discussed this point. The Maggid suggests the following explanation. The Gemara relates (Taanis 21b):
Once a plague broke out in Sura, but it did not effect the area where Rav lived. People thought the area was spared on account of Rav’s many merits, but they then saw in a dream that the matter was too small to invoke Rav’s many merits; rather, it was on account of the merit of a certain man who used to lend people a shovel and spade for burials.
The commentators ask: What was wrong with people thinking that their being spared from the plague was due to Rav’s merits, that it was necessary for a dream to come to set them straight? Keser Yehonasan (R. Yosansan Eibeschitz) provides a beautiful explanation. He says that there is only one reason why the wicked people in a given area are spared on account of the merits of the righteous people who live there – the potential, once the destroying angel has been sent to attack the wicked, that the angel will also set his hand on the righteous, for the destroying angel generally does not distinguish between the wicked and the righteous. If the righteous men of the area are perfectly righteous, however, the destroying angel cannot touch them; even if hordes of wicked men are stricken all around them, they would remain unscathed. In such a case, there is no cause for sparing the wicked for the sake of the righteous. Thus, when the people of Sura attributed their salvation to the merits of Rav, they were actually undervaluing his righteousness. Rav’s merits were so great that he would have been spared even if the area had been stricken. The residents of the area were therefore shown in a dream that their being spared was not due to Rav’s merits, but rather to those of the man who lent the shovel and spade. 
Now, had there been righteous men in Sodom, surely they would not have been perfectly righteous – they could not have maintained such a lofty level in such a debauched environment. Thus, there could be no guarantee that they would be spared, unless the entire city were spared. This fact explains the way Avraham presented his request: As reflected in his initial words, his goal was to arrange for the righteous men to be spared, but he realized that it would be impossible to spare them without sparing the entire city. He therefore asked Hashem to spare the entire city; otherwise, the destroying angel would smite the righteous and the wicked alike, making it appear that, far be it, that the Judge of the entire world does not do justice.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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