Only in the Torah? Abraham challenges God.

And now for something completely different…
In this week’s synagogue Torah reading, Genesis 18:1 – 22:24, God tells Abraham that Sodom and Gomorrah are to be destroyed, and Abraham challenges the morality of this decision. He morally challenges God. And God accepts.
“Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty? What if there should be fifty innocent within the city; will You then wipe out the place and not forgive it for the sake of the innocent fifty who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty, so that innocent and guilty fare alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” And the Lord answered, “If I find within the city of Sodom fifty innocent ones, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.”
There follows a marvelous ethical bargaining session in which Abraham gets the number down from 50, first to 45
“Here I venture to speak to my Lord, I who am but dust and ashes: What if the fifty innocent should lack five? Will You destroy the whole city for want of the five?” And He answered, “I will not destroy if I find forty-five there.”
Then 40, then 30, then 20, and finally,
“Let not my Lord be angry if I speak but this last time: What if ten should be found there?” And He answered, “I will not destroy, for the sake of the ten.”
What I have just learned is that there is a curiously awesome Midrash (the parallel oral tradition that was not written down until the Talmud) that provides more detail:
“According to Rabbi Levi, Abraham said to God, ‘If You seek to have a world, strict justice cannot be exercised; and if You seek strict justice, there will be no world. Do You expect to take hold of the well’s rope at both ends? You desire a world and You also desire justice? You can have only one of the two. If You do not relent a little, the world will not endure’ ” (Genesis Rabbah 39:6).



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