Why is Abraham the chosen one?

Shouldn’t this great man be introduced along with his heroic credentials? Why is this his past résumé kept confidential?

 ABRAHAM TENDING his flock.  (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

For approximately two thousand years, humanity was lost in theological confusion and moral mayhem. Finally, one great man uncovered the creator of the universe and journeyed to the supernatural land of divine presence. Abraham’s voyage revolutionized human and religious history.

The man who revamped religious history possessed the vision to single-handedly discover God, and the courage to defend his beliefs against a skeptical world. Beforehand, humanity had assumed that our vast and teeming world of boundless diversity was fashioned by multiple creators. Abraham debunked this folly, identified a “One God” and preached monotheism to his generation. This discovery was remarkable, given that Abraham’s own father was a pagan notable who ultimately ratted out his own “heretic” son, condemning Abraham to death by fire. Only through a miracle did Abraham survive this blazing inferno. Abraham was a revolutionary philosopher and defiant hero – in short, the perfect candidate to launch the history of God’s chosen people.

Yet, surprisingly, the details of Abraham’s past are repressed. The Torah introduces Abraham without providing the important background details that warranted his selection. Shouldn’t this great man be introduced along with his heroic credentials? Why is this his past résumé kept confidential?

Nachmanides, the 12th century philosopher and Bible commentator, asserts that Abraham’s past is suppressed to avoid depicting the contemporary pagan religions. Detailing Abraham’s religious inquiry would have mandated equal “air time” for the parallel religions he discarded. Omitting the details of Abraham’s background enables the Torah to “sidestep” any mention of these counterfeit religious systems which Abraham discredited. The rise of Abraham is displayed in an untainted fashion.

This decision to exclude any mention of alternate religious views isn’t just a literary decision to provide a neater portrait of Abraham. By highlighting revelation to Abraham without juxtaposing it to other religions, the Torah contrasts between Judaism and other religions. Introducing Judaism alongside contemporary religions might have implied “equivalency.” Presenting the evolution of Judaism in a historical “vacuum” emphasizes the singular nature of Judaism.

The Modern Era of enlightenment and religious tolerance demands a nuanced and complex view of other religions. Jews value any variety of religious experience which assists Man in his search for the Other. Religious sensitivity in general, conditions people to cardinal virtues such as morality, family, social consciousness, and character improvement. Any religion which channels human spirit to heaven is valuable.

One of the great triumphs of the past century was the convincing defeat of Communism – a system which sought to craft a society absent of religion. Even a religious world of paganism – as corrupt and barbaric as it may be – is certainly preferable to a world of atheism. Likewise, the modern milieu of religion, dominated by monotheistic systems, is far preferable to the idolatrous world of our ancestors.

We don’t just value alternate religious lifestyles in theory, but also acknowledge and exploit important similarities between our own religious experience and the experiences of what many people refer to as our “coreligionists.” We form collaborative alliances with members of various religions, jointly campaigning to uphold common religious values in a rapidly secularizing world.

Furthermore, we are legitimately inspired by any life devoted to religious values. Many people are even enriched by studying the thoughts of sincerely religious writers from other religions. Religious people share much in common, and the advent of religious tolerance has allowed us to bridge across differing religious communities.

However, the age of religious enlightenment can also blur differences between Judaism and other religions, or create a false sense of equivalence. Judaism is fundamentally different from other religions – both in content as well as in its transmission. All religions were conceived by human intellect and human imagination. Human constructs can establish language for religious experience and they can conjure approximations of God, but they are utterly incapable of conceiving of the essence of God. Abraham himself also studied and discovered God through human analysis and inquiry. However, his “discovery” would have been partial and inaccurate had God not answered his inquiry with direct revelation, coupled with frontal religious instructions. Direct divine revelation launched the Jewish religion. Revelation began in the book of Genesis, directed at a few families and climaxed at Sinai in the form of a “mass revelation.” No religion has ever staked the audacious claim of mass revelation and none ever will. The assertion that three and half million people directly encountered the unmediated voice of God is the sole province of Judaism.

Despite the numerous parallels with other religions, Judaism is fundamentally distinct, and for this reason, the contemporary religions of Abraham’s era are textually “ignored,” even at the cost of withholding Abraham’s past heroics. To avoid any sense of equivalency, the launch of Judaism is spotlighted in “a vacuum” without mentioning other religions and without implying any comparison.

We are grateful that the modern era of religious tolerance has rescued Jews from centuries of religious persecution. It is both enriching and reinforcing to acknowledge the common interests and experiences we share with members of other religions. Despite these similarities, we mustn’t assume equivalence between our own customs and mores and those of other religions. Abraham was chosen for direct revelation and hundreds of years later God directly spoke to his children. That seminal moment at Sinai and not human inquiry is the foundation of Jewish belief. Mass revelation has never been repeated.


The venerable 19th century leader Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk would consistently walk by the estate of a non-Jewish nobleman, well known for his moral and pious lifestyle. He was asked about this strange decision – to constantly stroll alongside the home of a non-Jew. He explained that when he recites the blessing of “shelo asani goy” – thanking God for selecting us as Jews, he didn’t want to compare himself with a drunk or vile Gentile. Instead, he wanted to celebrate his Jewish identity while considering noteworthy or outstanding Gentiles whose lives were honorable. His evaluation of his Jewishness wasn’t based on the degradation of others, but rather upon the celebration of his national and personal calling. Our unique Jewish identity isn’t built on dismissing the value of non-Jewish lives. However, our “pluralism” in validating different lifestyles cannot erode the pride of our distinct Jewish experience.

The writer is a rabbi at Yeshivat Har Etzion/Gush, a hesder yeshiva. He has smicha and a BA in computer science from Yeshiva University as well as a masters degree in English literature from the City University of New York.