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Greater Than the Sum of its Parts - Parashat Vayera 5780, November 15, 2019

In this week’s parasha, VaYera, Avraham Avinu is told of Hashem’s plan to destroy Sedom and its four sister cities. The Torah describes these cities as places of decrepit morals populated by denizens of corrupt values.

The Torah recounts that Avraham asked Hashem to preserve the cities on account of the 
tzaddikim – the righteous people – who lived in the cities. Avraham inquires whether Hashem would destroy the cities if there were 50 righteous people. Hashem responds that He would not. Avraham then inquires whether Hashem would destroy the cities if there were 45 righteous people. Hashem responds that He would not. Avraham then inquires about 40, 30, 20 or even 10 righteous people. Hashem responds that in any of these cases, He would not cause destruction.

chachamim address a number of issues related to this interaction between Avraham and Hashem. One question that they address is why Avraham chose to inquire about 50, 45, 40, 30, 20 then 10 righteous people. What was Avraham’s logic?

On our passage, Rashi comments that 50 righteous people represented 10 for each of the five cities. Ramban interprets Rashi to mean that Avraham’s first request was to preserve each of the five cities only if there were 10 righteous people per city. Avraham’s next inquiry concerned 45 righteous people – this request was to preserve each of the cities if there were nine righteous people per city with the Almighty Himself being counted as the tenth. Avraham then inquired about 40, 30, 20 and 10. With these requests, Avraham inquired whether individual cities would be saved if they each contained 10 righteous people. He inquired as to whether Hashem would preserve four, three, two or even one of the cities on account of its 10 
tzaddikim. This interpretation suggests that 10 righteous individuals create a merit for a society. However, Rashi does not explain what merit is created by 10 tzaddikim.

We know that a 
minyan is comprised of 10. The Torah calls ten people an eyda – a congregation. Ten people comprise a substantive group – a whole more than the sum of its parts. Apparently, the preservation of these wicked cities required the influence of a

righteous group. The presence of individual righteous people would not suffice to help the city change its nature. Even the presence of nine individuals with the Almighty being counted as the tenth was not sufficient. For this reason, Hashem agreed to preserve each individual city on the condition that a righteous group was present to help the city turn away from evil.

Groups influence people in ways that individuals cannot. The pervasive influences of the ambient culture. The power of group-think. The influence of a Jewish Day School, Yeshiva Gedola or Kollel on a city or on the individual members of the community. The influence of Shuls. The influence of other Jewish institutions. All are examples of the positive influence of a group on its individuals. We should certainly seek out righteous friends and neighbors. However, when we associate with righteous groups, we are influenced on a different level and with a qualitatively different power. Through Avraham’s inquiry we learn about the critical importance of associating not only with righteous individuals but with righteous groups.


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