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וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ה' 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.” Genesis.18.26

What does it mean that God does not know the number of innocent ones in Sodom?

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Sforno implies that Hashem was going to examine them individually.

אם אמצא בסדום עתה כשאנסה אותם במלאכי' ששלחתי אם אמצא בסדום נ' צדיקים שימחו ברשעים בסדום שהיא ראש לשאר הערים כאמרו סדום ובנותיה ובה יקבצו נדיבי העם מכל שאר הכרכים אשר בככר:

אם אמצא בסדום - now that I will examine them individually, having sent My angels, if I find 50 righteous men of the type that will protest and try to stop the wickedness of the remainder of the people in Sodom, the leading city of the valley (sefaria translation)

So it would seem Hashem wanted to individually examine them and only then if he found fitting people would he save them. I imagine, in much the same way we have Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur, and you can argue why do we need it if Hashem knows what our year will be like, He still takes the time to review our 'personal account' and that is possibly how to understand it in the case of Sedom.

Alternatively the Malbim offers another suggestion:

ויאמר ה'. הודה לו שאם אמצא בסדום חמשים צדיקים, אפילו שלא יהיו צדיקים גמורים רק יהיו צדיקים בתוך העיר בערך אנשי סדום ישא לכל המקוםשכולל לכל ערי הככר:

i.e. Even if they were not complete tzaddikim but had some semblance of righteousness then he would save them.

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  • What I understood from both answers that God did not know and needed a test to check it out. – Al Berko Nov 7 '20 at 23:42
  • To return to my analogy of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur - you can say exactly the same point. Of course Hashem knows what kind of year we will have, but we are given the chance to correct our faults as Hashem probes each of us individually. Maybe despite being of a wicked nature, an individual Sodomite still harboured the aspiration to do good but couldn't because of the place they lived in, and Hashem wanted to see if there was any underlying levels of inherent goodness. – Dov Nov 7 '20 at 23:47
  • Does "Hashem wanted to see" contradict Rambam's principles? – Al Berko Nov 7 '20 at 23:54
  • @AlBerko In what way? – Dov Nov 7 '20 at 23:55
  • change "see" to "judge" if it will help – Dov Nov 7 '20 at 23:57
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In my answer to the question about God's knowledge and free will, I cited Ralbag's commentary to this story, in which he writes:

The sixteenth lesson is in ideas. And it is to teach us something amazing of God's knowledge of things, which was hidden from all [my] predecessors whose words have reached us. And it is that that which God may He be exalted knows of actions in this low world is independent of what man [actually] does. That is that He knows the actions of people that are fitting according to what was prepared for them from the day of their creation, based on the celestial causes that God may He be exalted placed as guidance over the human species. [However,] human choice rules over this arrangement of their actions based on the celestial causes. And it is therefore possible that what people actually do is different from what God may He be exalted knew [they would do] based on the arrangement of their actions. And this is because He knows their actions from the side in which knowledge of them is possible, and that is the side in which they are arranged and quantified. But on the side in which they are contingent there can be no knowledge, for if we suppose that knowledge of them is possible then their contingency cannot be upheld. And therefore it says metaphorically that God may He be exalted saw whether the people of Sodom and Gomorrah actually did the evil that He knew from them, because it is possible that what they had done was different from what God may He be exalted knew from them. And we have explained this topic of God's knowledge of things in Book III of Wars of the Lord. And we explained there that this view is necessary on the basis of philosophy as well as on the basis of Torah.

(My translation and emphasis)

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  • You know I can't decipher those texts. Please summarise it for me in plain English. – Al Berko Nov 7 '20 at 23:38
  • @AlBerko God knows what you are likely to do, but you have the free will to choose differently. Therefore God had to "confirm" that the Sodomites actually did all the evil that He "knew" they would do. – Alex Nov 7 '20 at 23:40
  • "because it is possible that what they had done was different from what God knew from them." So, Ralbag sides with God's "incompleteness". As I see there's no other way to interpret it? Can you put your comment into the answer. – Al Berko Nov 7 '20 at 23:50

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