A Strange Negotiation
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
God is about to destroy the wicked inhabitants of Sedom as well as its surrounding cities and informs Abraham of His intentions. Abraham beseeches God to save the cities. He first asks God if He would agree to save the cities if fifty righteous people could be found. God agrees and then Abraham asks God if He would agree to save the cities if only forty-five people could be found. God agrees and then Abraham asks God if He would agree to save the cities if only forty people could be found. This cycle continues until God agrees to save a city even if only ten righteous people could be found.
The Telze Rov, Rabbi Yosef Yehudah Leib Bloch, points out that Abraham’s interaction with God seems somewhat strange. If Abraham felt that, perhaps, God would agree to save a city with ten righteous individuals, then why not begin with ten? Then, if God declines the request, try and renegotiate at twenty and so on. If Abraham felt that God would only save the cities if there were fifty righteous individuals, then why does Abraham ask for more once God grants his initial request?
Rabbi Yosef Yehuda Leib Bloch answers that Abraham initially felt that God would not agree to save the cities if there were fewer than fifty righteous individuals. Therefore, he did not bother praying for fewer than fifty righteous individuals. However, once Abraham connected deeply to God in prayer, Abraham’s perception of God changed. He realized God’s love and compassion on an even deeper level and then felt that perhaps God would save the cities if there were forty-five righteous people. Abraham again proceeded to connect with God in prayer and then gained even deeper insight in to God’s love and compassion and therefore was able to ask God to save cities for forty righteous people. In this way, Abraham’s interaction with God continued.
The above explanation helps us to understand a common question: Why pray for a particular result? If a particular result is good for a person, God will deliver that result with or without prayer, so why pray? When we sincerely pray to God, we change and transform ourselves. We become different people and our perception of God matures. A particular result may not have been appropriate for person A (the individual before prayer), but may be appropriate for person B (the individual transformed through prayer.) God does not need our prayers. He commands us to pray to change ourselves and to help us grow and mature in our understanding and connection to Him.