Considering how fortunate Lot was to escape Sedom with his own life, it’s surprising that the angel, speaking on behalf of Hashem, granted his request to spare the entire city of Tzo’ar. This is especially puzzling in light of the fact that Avraham failed to persuade Hashem to spare even one city – and Lot himself was only saved in Avraham’s merit!
We learn from here a remarkable insight into the nature of tefillah. Although Avraham persistently negotiated with Hashem to spare the cities, he never actually asked Hashem to spare them. When it became clear that there wasn’t enough collective merit to allay the midas hadin (Heavenly prosecution), Avraham gave up, rather than appeal for mercy. A feeble plea from Lot – simply asking for Hashem to spare a city – achieved what the haggling of a tzaddik could not. We see that we must never underestimate the power of asking Hashem for the things we desire.
[Indeed, Avraham’s prayer for Yishmael at the end of Parshas Lech Lecha was readily accepted.]
[This lesson is underscored by the Midrash Rabbah (7:71) in Parshas Vayeitzei and the Yefei To’ar, where Avraham and Yaacov are both criticized for not praying for their respective wives, instead pursuing other avenues. Also see the Midrash Rabbah (5:45), where Rabbi Yochanan explains Sarah’s words “חמסי עליך” as criticism of Avraham for praying for himself to have children, but not for her as well.]