We read in Parashat Vayera of Avraham’s plea on behalf of the wicked city of Sedom which God had decided to annihilate. He asks, “Will [Your] wrath destroy the righteous with the wicked? Perhaps there are fifty righteous people within the city; will [Your] anger destroy and not pardon the city for the sake of the fifty righteous people within it?” (18:23-24).
Avraham here appears to advance two different claims. First, he claims that it would be unjust for God to destroy the entire city, including the small population of righteous people living within it. Then, he argues that the entire city should be spared on account of this small population. These are two separate arguments, and the fact that Avraham combined them in his plea may likely reveal the way he perceived people and the situations he encountered. If, indeed, there were fifty righteous residents in Sedom, then not only should they be spared, but the entire city should be spared, as well, because it did, after all, produce a righteous group of people. Even if the vast majority of the city was evil and corrupt, the small virtuous population should not be discounted or overlooked. The fact that a small pocket of piety could emerge in Sedom testified to a ray of light and kernel of hope, and indicated that the society was not altogether evil. Avraham was not prepared to despair from Sedom as long as the city proved capable of producing a group of pious individuals.
In the end, of course, it was discovered that Sedom did not even have ten righteous people among its population, and thus its fate was sealed. Nevertheless, Avraham’s plea teaches us an important lesson about positivism and recognizing the potential for goodness in the people and things around us. Certainly, there are a small handful of outright evil people and groups of people without any redeeming qualities. But these are the exception. The rule is that nearly all people have at least some degree of goodness within them which testifies to their potential. If Avraham refused to discount a generally corrupt city with a few dozen righteous people, then we should certainly be able to identify the goodness within others even if they display negative qualities. We are to learn from our patriarch to try, as much as possible, to see the potential for goodness within all people, which is the first and most critical step towards allowing them to realize that potential.
(Based on an article by Rav Amnon Bazak)