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We know that Shem lived during the life of Avraham Avinu, described as Malki Tzedek.

Why is Avraham considered the first to spread ethical monotheism (concluding in G-d choosing him) if it's known that such great men as Shem and Ever lived before/during Avraham's life?

  • BTW Avraham overlapped Noah for 56 years! And from Shem to Avraham there were 9 generations, most Tzaddikim. – Al Berko Apr 14 at 12:35
  • When G-d speaks to Moses He mentions that Moses was "the chosen one" just because G-d "liked" him - no reason or logic. So the same with Avraham - G-d said - I like number 20, and the 20th generation will deserve a special treatment from Me. – Al Berko Apr 14 at 12:45
  • What I learned was that Avraham was the first to come to see/understand the monotheism of Hashem without a guide or particular first hand experience. We also have no record of earlier people working to convince others. – rosends Apr 14 at 12:50
  • I believe one explanation given is that, as opposed to earlier generations, Avraham was the first to perform outreach and teach others to serve G-d. (Accordingly, I believe the scriptural phrase "waters of Noah" referring to the Deluge, is interpreted midrashically as a criticism of Noah for not having attempted to correct his generation.) – Loewian Apr 14 at 13:35
  • @AlBerkoL There is more to it than that... I mean, Avraham is Avraham, but there was a reason why the 20th generation. Until then, there was no division into nations. Avraham lived during the Tower of Bavel. As soon as there were nations, or the seeds of what would be nations, Hashem chose one. – Micha Berger Apr 15 at 15:20
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Hashem actually tells us why He chose Avraham. It wasn't for his belief in G-d. Bereishis 18:18-19:

יח. וְאַ֨בְרָהָ֔ם הָי֧וֹ יִֽהְיֶ֛ה לְג֥וֹי גָּד֖וֹל וְעָצ֑וּם וְנִ֨בְרְכוּ ב֔וֹ כֹּ֖ל גּוֹיֵ֥י הָאָֽרֶץ׃

יט. כִּ֣י יְדַעְתִּ֗יו לְמַעַן֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יְצַוֶּ֜ה אֶת־בָּנָ֤יו וְאֶת־בֵּיתוֹ֙ אַחֲרָ֔יו וְשָֽׁמְרוּ֙ דֶּ֣רֶךְ ה' לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת צְדָקָ֖ה וּמִשְׁפָּ֑ט לְמַ֗עַן הָבִ֤יא ה' עַל־אַבְרָהָ֔ם אֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֖ר עָלָֽיו׃

  1. Avraham is to become a great and populous nation and all the nations of the earth are to be blessed through him him.
  2. For I have singled him out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of Hashem by doing what is just and right, in order that the Hashem may bring about for Abraham what He has promised him.”

Avraham was chosen because Hashem saw that he would teach his descendents justice and righteousness. Not "just" that he believed in G-d, as Sheim and Eiver did. Not "just" that he would make sure to pass this on to his children. But because Avraham realized the existence of a Creator implies things about how we treat other people. AND, that this is the essential message to pass down to following generations.

  • If only observant Jews today realized as much. Our mitzvos between us and G-d are a prerequisite. It's our mitzvos between us and other people that Hillel, Rabbi Aqiva and ben Azzai call the central thrust of the Torah. I'm collecting sources that say as much at sefaria.org/sheets/142643 . Suggestions for contributions welcome. – Micha Berger Apr 15 at 15:22
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I’ll need to find the exact chapter later but in Rabbi Avigdor Miller’s work, “Rejoice O’ Youth”, this question or some variation of it is asked. The sage in the work responds that it wasn’t really Avraham that was chosen, rather Shem. Although Shem was a Tzadik and ultimately learned, he didn’t promulgate the name of Hashem; rather, he kept to himself learning (and opened a yeshivah). The following descendants were then tasked with the promotion of Hashem‘s name but for some attribute or lack thereof they did not. Idolatry was eventually popularized and this further cascaded the degradation of the descendants. We are then led up to Terach and then Avraham. As I aforementioned, the descendants of Shem, each and every one of them could have been the one to be the progenitor of Bnei Yisroel. Avraham’s paradigm shifts and at some point in his life he concludes the prevailing doctrine of Monotheism. That which Avraham fulfilled was in actuality supposed to have been fulfilled by Shem. In addition, R Miller expounds the fact that Avraham was no ordinary individual but one with capacities of great breadth. Any field of endeavor wasn’t elusive for him. He apparently was learned in many different wisdoms and if he didn’t live up to his challenges he could have claimed rulership over some part of his land. His ancestors possessed similar dexterities too.

I didn’t necessarily answer your question, as you could ask further “then why was Shem picked”, but that leaves out that the arbitrary selection of a random descendent from a particular lineage, as opposed to a selection of three brothers, and this selection was clearly not arbitrary, given their actions upon departure of the Tevah.

  • Please do let me know of that chapter once you find it. Your comment is very useful. – Elchanan Ben Avrohom Apr 14 at 22:07
  • @ElchananBenAvrohom here is an imgur link to 5 pages of his work imgur.com/a/3GqvADw The subject matter begins by Point 145, and the mentioning of Avraham's lineage's eligibility starts on the bottom of pg 81 and ends on the top of pg 82. Oh, and ignore a random blue line by one of the pages, it does not indicate anything, and chag sameach. – Yaakov Pinchas Apr 19 at 22:32
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You need to change your perspective to understand this answer. Usually, we believe in causality, things are caused by previous events or behaviors.

  1. While it is true in our human perception, it is not true for G-d and His view on the Creation. In His eyes, the 6000 years of the Cration exist simultaneously (see the 10th dimension to understand the concept), therefore there's no causality for Him, and Avraham was not "chosen because of his good deeds", but that's how the Creation looks - the Jewish nations "starts" with him and not anybody else, Moses is one to lead the Jews out of Egypt and receive the Tora, Yehoshua is one to enter the promised land, David to reign and Shlomo to erect the Temple.

  2. In the Talmud, we can see that many generations are ordered by numbers - (see Mishna Avot) 10 generations from Adam to Noach and another 10 from Noah to Avraham, there are 3 Patriarchs, Moses was #26 (=Tetragrammaton), R' Yehuda (I think) was #40 etc. So those positions were fixed in the Creation and those souls just filled those positions.

Therefore we can't compare Avraham to Shem or to Noah or to Moses, he was chosen "just because" G-d planned so.

  • Hashem isn't arbitrary. The OP wants to know why Hashem "planned" to choose Avraham – robev Apr 14 at 13:23
  • @robev Let me hear the OP. THe question says that Shem was also a Tzadik, so why not him, and I explained. – Al Berko Apr 14 at 13:30
  • @robev Hashem is arbitrary, otherwise, He's obligated to some logic, and He's not. Hashem says to Moses ואתה מצאת חן בעיני - "I liked [the idea of] you." - nothing reasonable He just felt that way. – Al Berko Apr 14 at 13:35

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