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Rashi on Genesis 18:25 (excerpt):

חלילה לך יאמרו כך הוא אמנתו, שוטף הכל, צדיקים ורשעים, כך עשית לדור המבול ולדור הפלגה:

My translation:

People will say that this is your method (of punishment) - that you combine everyone - the righteous with the wicked. This is what you did to the generation of the flood and the generation of dispersion (following Noach).

I'm not sure of Rashi's source for this explanation, here. However, given that this is correct, it seems that God's judgement method towards humanity was much stricter until Avraham came. It seems that God exhibited more of his merciful attribute afterwards. Why was the judgement more severe then, and less severe afterwards?

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It was not true that Hashem punished the wicked and the righteous together. In the time of Noach, only Noach and his family were tzadikim (and were less than the ten Avraham was asking for). Thus, everyone who died in the mabul deserved it.

The punishment of the dor haflaga was actually a salvation of the world as the dispersion caused the wicked to lose power and allowed everyone the freedom to establish their own societies. Thus, it actually saved the world from having to be destroyed.

Rashi is saying that the people who do not understand will think that Hashem performs communal punishment with the righteous and the wicked punished together. As a result, they will think that it is not worth being righteous since they will be punished anyways.

Avraham was attempting to save the cities so that those who were potentially righteous could have a chance to do teshuvah. Even the reshaim could do teshuvah if they are frightened enough.

Your comment brings up Avimelech in Perek 20 Pasuk 4 of Vayeirah

ד: וַאֲבִימֶלֶךְ לֹא קָרַב אֵלֶיהָ וַיֹּאמַר אֲדֹנָי הֲגוֹי גַּם צַדִּיק תַּהֲרֹג

  1. And Abimelech had not come near to her, and he said, "O Lord, will You kill even a righteous nation?

ה: הֲלֹא הוּא אָמַר לִי אֲחֹתִי הִוא וְהִיא גַם הִוא אָמְרָה אָחִי הוּא בְּתָם לְבָבִי וּבְנִקְיֹן כַּפַּי עָשִׂיתִי זֹאת

  1. Did he not say to me, 'She is my sister'? And she, even she said, 'He is my brother.' With the innocence of my heart and with the purity of my hands have I done this."

ו: וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו הָאֱלֹהִים בַּחֲלֹם גַּם אָנֹכִי יָדַעְתִּי כִּי בְתָם לְבָבְךָ עָשִׂיתָ זֹּאת וָאֶחְשׂךְ גַּם אָנֹכִי אוֹתְךָ מֵחֲטוֹ לִי עַל כֵּן לֹא נְתַתִּיךָ לִנְגֹּעַ אֵלֶיהָ

  1. And God said to him in a dream, "I too know that you did this with the innocence of your heart, and I too have withheld you from sinning to Me; therefore, I did not let you touch her

Note that Hashem doen't dignify Pasuk 4 with an answer. The claim is actually so ludicrous that Hashem does not even need to say that it is not true. We can see this because Avimelech has to issue a decree telling everyone to leave Avraham and Sarah alone. At least they were better than the Egyptians because Par'o could not trust his people to obey such a command. Thus, even Avimelech realized that this was not a valid argument. Also, Hashem did not threaten to kill everyone, this was Avimelech stating that if he were killed (as the king) the entire nation would be destroyed. Thus, even if the people were completely righteous, Hashem had not threatened anyone other than Avimelech.

Avimelech says (according to Rav Hirsch's translation) "In the innocence of my heart and the integrity of my hands have I done this" Hashem answers "in the innocence of thy heart" but not "integrity of thy hands" which means, yes he thought she was not married, be he still sinned by kidnapping her.

  • Your reasoning seems correct. However, I think Rash"i makes a similar comment regarding what Avimelech said to God, as well, and, there, I don't think he includes the "what others will say" aspect. I'll try to edit this into my question later or tomorrow. – DanF Oct 29 '15 at 20:28
  • Avimelech says (according to Rav Hirsch's translation) "In the innocence of my heart and the integrity of my hands have I done this" Hashem answers "in the innocence of thy heart" but not "integrity of thy hands" which means, yes he thought she was not married, be he still sinned by kidnapping her. It is not the same argument. – sabbahillel Oct 29 '15 at 20:40
  • That's not the pasuk. See Rash"i on (I think) 1 verse earlier Hagoy gam tzadik taharog. – DanF Oct 29 '15 at 21:30
  • I added the explanation as to why Avimelech's claim in Pasuk 4 was ignored as well as explaining Hashem's answer. That way the answer will apply after you add that to the question. – sabbahillel Oct 29 '15 at 22:40

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