Moshe Abarbanel

Were the five sister cities of Sodom and Amora interconnected?  

When Abraham questions God to understand His Justice, he presents a strange series of questions.  (Abraham is not negotiating with God. As God is perfect, His justice must be perfect. Therefore, to negotiate would imply some imperfection in God's reasoning) 

In Genesis 18:23-33 Abraham starts by stating, “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?!”   We see from here that Abraham is addressing the Creator's Justice.  We also understand that the Creator plans to teach Abraham about his justice as it states, “For I have known him, to the end that he may command his children and his household after him that they may keep the way of Lord to do righteousness and justice, to the end that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which He spoke of him.” (Gen. 18:19) God decided to reveal to our forefather an aspect of justice that the human mind cannot achieve without divine assistance. ("Will I keep hidden..." ibid 18:17)   

 Abraham continues his quest to understand divine justice by asking “Perhaps there are fifty righteous within the city, will you indeed sweep away and not forgive the place for fifty righteous that are there?”  Abraham attempts to understand how the All-Powerful calculates His Justice. God answers that for the 50 He will not destroy the inhabitants.  Abraham asks if five are lacking, will You still spare them?  God answers he will not destroy because of the five lacking from the 50.

Rashi states “Will you destroy for the lack of the five if there be nine (righteous) for each city and You the Righteous One of the world will be included with them to make up the tenth in each?” (ibid 18:28)  Here, Rashi teaches us that each city must have ten.  God in His compassion will allow nine per city but no less.  That is why – according to my understanding of  Rashi – that Abraham does not seek less than ten men at the end of his inquest.

Yet, Abraham persists in asking the Judge of Judges what if there 40, 30, 20 and finally 10?  What is his lie of reasoning?  If he already determined that ten upright people are required for salvation, why continue asking in decreasing progression by tens?  Rashi is also bothered by this and writes, “Perhaps there shall be found there forty and four of the cities will be saved, and similar thirty will rescue three of them (cities) or twenty shall rescue two or ten shall rescue one of them.” (ibid 18:29).  What is Rashi teaching us?  He already established that each city must have ten in the previous sentence.  

I believe Rashi is telling us something new here.  I believe Abraham is now is trying to understand the interconnection between these five cities.  Each decrease represents not only one city but a different evaluation of the entire community known as Sodom. The five cities were considered part of one larger community collective called by the largest cities names – "Sodom and Amorah".  

Abraham now wishes to learn if, of the complete set of 50, there is an initial breach of that full 50 (only 45 righteous) in four of the cities, will the Almighty spare the remaining cities?  God answers that these cities will be spared.  What if only a majority (three of the five) of cities contain the righteous, will God save the majority based on 30 righteous souls?  The Almighty answers he will save the majority.  After this, what if upright people are only found in the minority of cities, 20 upright people in two of the five cities, will the Creator spare the two cities...a minority? Abraham is taught that a minority of dwellings can qualify for saving.  Finally when Abraham gets down to ten righteous people in one city he now wants to know if the cities are interconnected.  Will one city be spared for the upright people living there while the rest of the cities that comprised this community are destroyed? We find the answer to be that even one city by itself with only ten righteous people can be spared.

Thereby, Abraham's questions were intended to understand  anew element of Divine Justice. This was not simply a numbers game.