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.