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According to Rashi, Avraham began his prayers by reasoning let the tzadikim save the entire cities, and if the tzadikim can't save the whole city, at least don't kill the tzadikim themselves.

אולי יש חמשים צדיקים. עֲשָׂרָה צַדִּיקִים לְכָל כְּרַךְ וּכְרַךְ, כִּי ה' מְקוֹמוֹת יֵשׁ. וְאִם תֹּאמַר: לֹא יַצִּילוּ הַצַּדִּיקִים אֶת הָרְשָׁעִים, לָמָּה תָּמִית הַצַּדִּיקִים?

PERADVENTURE THERE BE FIFTY RIGHTEOUS — ten righteous men for each city for there were five localities concerned. Should You, however, say that the righteous cannot save the wicked—but why should You kill the righteous at all?

Later, at the end of Avraham's prayer in pasuk 32, Rashi explains Avraham doesn't ask about less than ten because Noach's family which numbered eight couldn't save their generation.

אולי ימצאון שם עשרה. עַל הַפָּחוּת לֹא בִקֵּשׁ, אָמַר דוֹר הַמַּבּוּל הָיוּ ח', נֹחַ וּבָנָיו וּנְשֵׁיהֶם, וְלֹא הִצִּילוּ עַל דּוֹרָם; וְעַל ט' עַל יְדֵי צֵרוּף כְּבָר בִּקֵּשׁ וְלֹא מָצָא:

PERADVENTURE THERE SHALL TEN BE FOUND THERE — For a smaller number he did not plead because he knew already of two instances where less than ten had failed to save the wicked. He said to himself: In the generation of the Flood there were eight righteous people, viz., Noah, his sons and their wives, and they could not save their generation (Genesis Rabbah 49:13), and for nine in association with God he had already pleaded but had found no acceptance.

Question: What happened to the second intention of his teffila, at least don't kill the tzadikim themselves? There was no confirmation from Hashem to agree to not kill the tzadikim themselves, nor was there a confirmation that they did not exist, so why did Avraham stop at a number which couldn't save their generation, he should have continued praying to save the tzadikim as individuals.

all quotes and translations from sefaria

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This bothered me too, and I'll suggest a thought to answer your question.

Avraham initally asked about saving the Tzadikim themselves too, and Hashem answered that no only will he save the Tzadikim, but he will also save their respective cities in their merit.

Avraham was unsure how much of Hashem's decision not to destroy the cities was due to the power of the many, therefore he continued to ask what would happen if there would be less Tzadikim. Perhaps the power of the many is required to save other people.

However, Avraham learnt from the first answer of Hashem that the Tzadikim themselves will be saved. He understood that there would be no reason that this should be dependant on the many, and therefore assumed it could apply for less than 10 as well.

  • I don't understand how Hashem's answer implies what you say. וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוָ֔ה אִם־אֶמְצָ֥א בִסְדֹ֛ם חֲמִשִּׁ֥ים צַדִּיקִ֖ם בְּת֣וֹךְ הָעִ֑יר וְנָשָׂ֥אתִי לְכָל־הַמָּק֖וֹם בַּעֲבוּרָֽם׃ And the LORD answered, “If I find within the city of Sodom fifty innocent ones, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” – user6591 Nov 19 at 0:00
  • @user6591 Its a Kal Vochomer, as in goes without saying. If already He is willing to save the entire city due to the Tzadikim, certainly they themselves will be saved too. – Yehuda Nov 19 at 10:46
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Leon Kass suggested a novel idea. He felt that Abraham questioned the verdict in Genesis 18 on the grounds of objective justice, and of course, for his nephew Lot. While he was concerned for Lot, he was equally concerned for other good people who may be residing in the city in general. Leon Kass then reveals a novel idea. Abraham had to stop at ten because if he “reduced the argument to (will you save the city for) one (person) it would have been too obvious that he was asking G-d to save Lot.”[1]

Abraham was concerned for all peoples, indeed he taught the truth to whoever he met in his tent. But he couldn't make G-d think that he only cared, selfishly, for Lot alone. Of course, G-d is not oblivious[2], but I think Leon Kass answered this well.

[1] See Peshat Isn’t so Simple by Rabbi Hayyim Angel

[2] Ralbag, as well as Abraham ibn Ezra, felt that G-d only knows the general things but not the particular

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