the Merit of Abraham
by Tzvi Schnee
November 11, 2019
After Abraham and Sarah are brought the news that they will have a child in a years time, the three angels looked toward Sodom. Abraham, in all propriety, partially accompanied them on their way, escorting them as their host. From this example, it is brought down from chazal (the sages) that when entertaining a guest, it is best to walk a little ways with them out the door when they leave.
H’Shem, Who had appeared to Abraham, shortly before the three angels had arrived, let Abraham know of His intent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, “because their sin is exceeding grievous” (Genesis 18:20, JPS 1917 Tanach). In response, Abraham presents a case for sparing the city, for the sake of any righteous people, who may be living there.
Although Abraham may have had his nephew Lot in mind, because he lived in Sodom with his family, the dialogue that ensues is understood as questioning the severity of G-d’s Attribute of Justice. Abraham is asking H’Shem to show mercy on the righteous, as well as all of the people of Sodom & Gomorrah, seemingly so, because they might be spared for the sake of the righteous, based on the merit of the righteous.
Yet, in the end, it appears there were not even five righteous people in the city. Therefore, two of the angels entered Sodom to lead Lot out of the city before it’s destruction. The Zohar points out that Lot was not saved by his own merit; rather, upon the merit of Abraham, as is written, “G-d remembered [the merit of] Abraham” (Genesis 19:29; Chok L’Yisrael: Vayeira, Zohar Bereishis 104a).