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In parshas Vayeira there is a whole back-and-forth between Hashem and Avraham. Each time Avraham pleaded to save everyone if a certain number of righteous individuals would be found. Each time Hashem conceded, and then Avraham would ask again but with a smaller number of righteous people necessary for salvation.

I noticed some inconsistencies with Hashem's responses, and was wondering if there were any explanations offered by the commentaries.

Genesis 18:26

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.”

First, Hashem offers to forgive them, implying he won't destroy them. In verse 28, Hashem's response to Avraham is:

וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ לֹ֣א אַשְׁחִ֔ית אִם־אֶמְצָ֣א שָׁ֔ם אַרְבָּעִ֖ים וַחֲמִשָּֽׁה׃

...And He answered, “I will not destroy if I find forty-five there.”

In verse 29, Hashem changes his response again:

וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ לֹ֣א אֶֽעֱשֶׂ֔ה בַּעֲב֖וּר הָאַרְבָּעִֽים׃

...And He answered, “I will not do it, for the sake of the forty.”

Verse 30 is like 29:

וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ לֹ֣א אֶֽעֱשֶׂ֔ה אִם־אֶמְצָ֥א שָׁ֖ם שְׁלֹשִֽׁים׃

...And He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.”

Then in verse 31, Hashem says like he did in verse 28:

וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ לֹ֣א אַשְׁחִ֔ית בַּעֲב֖וּר הָֽעֶשְׂרִֽים׃

...And He answered, “I will not destroy, for the sake of the twenty.”

The final verse, 32, is like 31 and 28:

וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ לֹ֣א אַשְׁחִ֔ית בַּעֲב֖וּר הָעֲשָׂרָֽה׃

...And He answered, “I will not destroy, for the sake of the ten.”

  • Sefer Midrashei Torah has a nice explanation, but I don't have it in English. Do you need a translation? books.google.com/… – Benyomin Walters Oct 25 '18 at 18:29
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    As an interesting side observation to this, after Avraham had freed Lot and his family and servants from their captivity, did they return to their home in the suburbs of Sodom? If so, it would indicate that Avraham was trying to argue that perhaps Lot, his sons-in-law, and the servants of Lot's household would justify sparing Sodom. Since it doesn't limit the count of the righteous to males, Lot, his wife, his four daughters and their spouses or fiances would account for ten alone. But as the Torah points out, there were not even ten righteous in Sodom. – Yaacov Deane Oct 25 '18 at 18:34
  • Wrong to say inconsistencies....God is not inconsistent. To say such a thing is tantamount to heresy. See suggested edits. – chacham Nisan Nov 16 '18 at 9:02
  • @chachamNisan I think you're misunderstanding the word inconsistent. You can be intentionally/purposefully inconsistent and that's not a negative thing.. – robev Nov 16 '18 at 13:31
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See my comments to Alex's answer.

Yes, many commentaries offer explanations. Link to Mikra'os Gedolos here.

The more pshat-focused commentaries note that there is no issue with using a variety of terms that mean the same thing - see for example, Ibn Ezra (who explains "I will not do - destruction") and RDZ Hoffman (who notes the changes in language throughout this story) to 18:29 and 18:30.

The Kli Yakar (18:28, linked above) suggests (based on Onkelos) that the words "Lo E'eseh" refer to God not totally destroying it, but the words "Lo Ashchis" refer to any sort of minor destruction. Therefore, for numbers that had less of a religious significance, 30 and 40 (see inside for why these are more destructive numbers), God agreed not to totally destroy the cities that contained those numbers of Tzadikim, but they would still be punished to some extent.

Rav Hirsch (same link) follows a similar line of thinking, and suggests that the extremes (50/45, and 20, 10) that Avraham asks for are to completely let the city off the hook, whereas the middle ones are for God to take the merits of these people into account, but he will still punish them somewhat. (He offers the opposite understanding as a possibility as well.)

Malbim and Seforno have very detailed understandings where they go on a case-by-case basis, and you can look up their detailed understandings at the link above.


Although it is not mentioned clearly for each case, some of the "inconsistencies" are responses to Avraham's language. For example:

Avraham Asks:

אוּלַ֥י יֵ֛שׁ חֲמִשִּׁ֥ים צַדִּיקִ֖ם בְּת֣וֹךְ הָעִ֑יר הַאַ֤ף תִּסְפֶּה֙ וְלֹא־תִשָּׂ֣א לַמָּק֔וֹם לְמַ֛עַן חֲמִשִּׁ֥ים הַצַּדִּיקִ֖ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּקִרְבָּֽהּ׃

Hashem Responds

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר י״י֔ אִם־אֶמְצָ֥א בִסְדֹ֛ם חֲמִשִּׁ֥ים צַדִּיקִ֖ם בְּת֣וֹךְ הָעִ֑יר וְנָשָׂ֥אתִי לְכׇל־הַמָּק֖וֹם בַּעֲבוּרָֽם׃

Avraham Asks:

א֠וּלַ֠י יַחְסְר֞וּן חֲמִשִּׁ֤ים הַצַּדִּיקִם֙ חֲמִשָּׁ֔ה הֲתַשְׁחִ֥ית בַּחֲמִשָּׁ֖ה אֶת־כׇּל־הָעִ֑יר

Hashem Responds:

וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ לֹ֣א אַשְׁחִ֔ית אִם־אֶמְצָ֣א שָׁ֔ם אַרְבָּעִ֖ים וַחֲמִשָּֽׁה

At that point Avraham just asks if certain numbers can be found, and therefore, Hashem does not give consistent responses from that point on.

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It is interesting to note that many of the alternate versions of this passage have a variant text. Specifically, the Samaritan Pentateuch, Syriac Bible (Peshitta), and Septuagint all have אשחית/destroy instead of אעשה/do, both in Verse 29 and in Verse 30, and the Vulgate has אשחית/destroy in verse 29:

Samaritan Pentateuch

Image of Samaritan Pentateuch

Syriac Bible (Peshitta)

Image of Syriac Bible (Peshitta)

Septuagint (Brenton translation)

Image of Septuagint

Vulgate

Image of Vulgate

It is thus possible that the differences you note wherein אשחית/destroy is exchanged for אעשה/do is simply a corruption of the text, and the original text may have actually had אשחית/destroy each time in Verses 28-32.

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    Interesting.... – robev Oct 28 '18 at 0:22
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    The Samaritan version is famous for harmonization, and the Vulgate version has four different verbs for אשחית/אעשה: delebo, percutiam, faciam, interficiam, delebo. I don't think you can infer anything from either of these two versions. – magicker72 Oct 28 '18 at 8:26
  • @magicker72 That the Vulgate uses different verbs each time doesn't necessarily mean that the original Hebrew was different each time. And if it did it would still support the fact that the original Hebrew for verse 29 did not say אעשה. It is certainly possible that the Samaritan version is a harmonization, and I only ever said that there's a possibility of textual corruption, but when you take all four sources together, it is at least somewhat significant. – Alex Oct 29 '18 at 19:56
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    @Alex In either case, just presenting a bunch of versions without telling how each one is dependent on the other and in what way and what weight to give each piece of evidence doesn't make for a particularly compelling story. – magicker72 Oct 29 '18 at 20:27
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    @Alex For example, if I showed you ten manuscripts that had reading A and one manuscript that had reading B, you might think that reading A was likely correct. But if you then learned that nine of the ten manuscripts with reading A were actually copied from the first, then suddenly the "preponderance of evidence" is less meaningful. Here, having "all four sources together" is only "somewhat significant" if you show its significance. – magicker72 Oct 29 '18 at 21:05

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