Against The Odds by Avi Wollman

(2004/5765) One of the highlights of Parshat Vayera is Hashem’s
destruction of the city of Sodom. When Hashem approaches
Avraham to tell him about His plans, Avraham begs of Him not to
destroy the city in the merit of any righteous inhabitants who may
be living there. However, Avraham’s prayers are to no avail, and
Hashem ultimately destroys the city. This incident is very
interesting and raises several questions. First of all, why is
Avraham pleading with Hashem to spare the city of Sodom from
destruction? This city even recognized Hashem but still defied
Him outright; it was entirely evil! In fact, there is a Pasuk in
Mishlei that states, “When the evil are destroyed, it calls for
rejoicing (song).” Based on this, it seems that Avraham should,
in fact, want the city of Sodom to be destroyed. Why, then, of all
the things he could do, does Avraham choose to pray for
Sodom? Additionally, what is Avraham doing praying for a city
which Hashem has decided to destroy? What gives him this
right?
In truth, Hashem did not have to notify Avraham of his
plans to destroy Sodom. Because Hashem did notify him,
Avraham perceived that he could pray on the city’s behalf.
Hashem was granting him a special opportunity to intercede.
Still, the Pasuk in Mishlei seems to indicate that he should not
have been praying for them, but rather rejoicing over their
destruction. We may explain this difficulty based on a Gemara in
Masechet Nidarim that states that Bnei Yisrael’s enslavement in Egypt was due to Avraham’s actions when he won the war
against the four kings. In 14:21-23, the Torah says, “The
King of Sodom said to Avraham, ‘Give me the people and
take the possessions for yourself.’ Avraham said to the
King of Sodom, ‘…I shall not take anything of yours….’”
Since Avraham did not take this opportunity to convert the
king of Sodom, the Gemara says, he was punished with
his children’s enslavement. Now, when the time came for
Sodom’s destruction, Avraham tried to correct his previous
mistake. He took the special opportunity Hashem had
given him to pray that the city of Sodom to be saved from
complete destruction. Nonetheless, as we know, Sodom
and its inhabitant were wiped out.
We are often presented with valuable
opportunities which we sometimes miss. When this
happens, it is important to do our best to correct our
mistakes, even when the odds are against us. We must
learn to be like our forefather Avraham, and to take
advantage of the wonderful opportunities with which we
provided.

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