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4 questions can be asked on this short incident (reminiscent of seder night, no doubt)….
Firstly, what exactly is Avraham praying for; he knows that HaShem is not destroying Sedom without reason; the people were wicked and more than deserving of punishment; as demonstrated by their attempted brutality towards Lot’s guests?
Secondly, one can ask a question regarding the way that Avraham prayed; he starts off by beseeching HaShem that if there are 50 righteous people within Sedom then HaShem should spare the entire city. He then goes down to 45, and eventually to 10. The question is as follows; what is the required minimum number of tzaddikim there to save Sedom? It cannot be 50, for otherwise a request to save the city on behalf of just 45, or even 10, would not help. Therefore, the minimum must be 10 - so why did Avraham not start with a bid of 10? In short, why did Avraham keep changing the requirements?
[and though Rashi says that once the ‘bid’ got below 45, Avraham was only pleading to save a certain number of cities and not the entire province, the same question can be asked regarding the 45 and ‘bids,’ which were both aimed at saving the entire province.]
Number 3: The Rambam details in his hilchos teshuva (3;2) that a city/province whose sins outweigh their mitzvos must be destroyed. And the proof he brings is from the pasuk regarding Sedom. Now, presumably Avraham Avinu also knew this rule of how HaShem acts with the world. Yet he asks that HaShem should save the city!? And to make matters worse, he does not ask HaShem to behave lifnei mishuras hadin and show special rachamim despite normal procedures - he openly asks HaShem to do mishpat (18;25) ie judgement, which rashi comments (there) means a din emes. [though see the first part of Rashi on that pasuk which probably will answer this question alone] In summary, how could Avraham ask HaShem to save Sedom via normal rules of judgement, if he himself knew that normal rules of judgement would not be enough to save Sedom; they did have more sins than mitzvos?
And the last question regards the lashon (lexis) Avraham uses in his request. He says (18;24) ’if 50 righteous people will be within (betoch) the city.’ Why is there a need to add the word ’within’ - just say ’if there are 50 righteous people in the city’ (b’ir) and save an entire word?
Perhaps we can answer the following (partly based on R’ Herman Neuberger)…
Avraham is not requesting to save the city because there are 50 righteous people and the rest are wicked; for that would come under the case in the Rambam of a city which has majority of sins, and the city would have no hope. Rather, Avraham is beseeching HaShem to wait a bit so that the 50 tzaddikim could influence the remaining reshaim to mend their ways. This is why the word betoch is used - for Avraham is asking that the righteous people within and amongst the city and its people can influence the people for good.
So too can we now suggest that the requirements for saving the city did not change; Avraham agrees with HaShem that at the moment the punishment of destruction is indeed fitting for Sedom, but he is asking HaShem to delay this punishment to allow the righteous people to possibly influence the wicked. But HaShem, who knows that this influencing will not occur anyway, does punish Sedom with destruction.