Based on the writings of Nehama Leibowitz
"Then Abraham drew near and said: Wilt Thou indeed destroy." Implying that it would be decent and generous of Him to spare the whole population for the sake of the fifty righteous ones. On the other hand, the Almighty would be violating even the letter of the law by destroying both righteous and wicked. This would equate them both, giving an excuse for those who say: "it is vain to serve God" (Malachi 3). How much more would the Judge of the whole earth be violating the quality of mercy. This is the force of the repetition of "far be it from thee". Ultimately the Holy One blessed be He did agree to spare the whole place for their sake, treating them with the quality of mercy. (Ramban)
"And not spare the place": The text does not read "the people of the place" since that would mean the guilty ones only, who would be meeting their just deserts. It was only fair however not to destroy the place completely so long as there remained fifty righteous persons within it. The wicked would be destroyed with the place remaining on the map populated by the surviving righteous. (Radak)
What is the difference between these two commentators in their approach to the text?
According to Ramban, Abraham's plea was for God to spare the wicked people of the city for the sake of the righteous people who lived there. Thus according to Ramban, the usage of the word "city" or "place" is referring to the inhabitants. According to Radak, "place" and "city" are to be taken literally i.e. referring to the geographical locus. In the latter interpretation, the destruction of the wicked is a foregone conclusion even before Abraham began to offer his plea.
Whom have we followed (see pp. 185-6).
The presentation clearly follows the view of Ramban.
Prepared by: Rabbi Mordechai Spiegelman veteran yeshiva educator (USA) now residing in Jerusalem