Jewish Overachievers and Why God Chose Abraham
Why is it that the Jews contribute so greatly to the world in so many areas? They are on the forefront of almost every intellectual and social area – in medicine, science, the arts, entertainment, finance, etc. People always talk about the disproportionate number of Jewish Nobel Prize winners (over 20% of the total). Are Jews just smart and high achievers, or is there a deeper reason for this? Did God choose Abraham because He knew his descendants would contribute so much to the world?
The Aish Rabbi Replies
It is definitely a well-known phenomenon that Jews are on the forefront of practically every field, cause and endeavor – whether cultural, political, or intellectual. To some degree, this can be attributed to smarts and a positive work ethic. But I believe there is a much deeper rationale – one which goes to the heart of why God selected Abraham and Sarah to found the Jewish people.
What was unique about Abraham and Sarah? In part, the answer is that they were not just personally righteous. They cared about the world as a whole. Once they discovered God themselves they embarked on a mission – to spread belief in God and a just world to the rest of mankind. The Torah refers to the souls Abraham and Sarah “made” in Charan (Genesis 12:5). The Sages explain that they “made” them by bringing them to religion, literally creating them anew (Bereishis Rabbah 39:14, brought in Rashi there). Maimonides writes that after Abraham discovered God, he began debating and teaching his countrymen in Ur of the Chaldees (Iraq / Mesopotamia), eventually being forced to flee the country to Charan (around modern-day Syria). At that point he and Sarah began traveling the world – from city to city and country to country – spreading the faith, bringing the belief in a just, moral God to the tens of thousands (Yad, Hil’ Avodah Zarah 1:3).
We thus find that Abraham and Sarah were not just pious but basically private individuals, withdrawing from the wicked world to live out their lives on an elevated spiritual plane. They cared about and felt a responsibility toward all mankind. They wanted to bring as many people to truth as possible – as well as bringing the world’s Creator the honor which is His proper due.
Likewise, we later find Abraham interceding with God not to destroy the wicked people of Sodom (Genesis 18). Abraham cared about all of God’s creations – not just the good ones or those who would listen to him. He did not just cloister himself among the faithful or those similar to him. All mankind was important to him. Abraham hoped to ultimately bring everyone to salvation.
Perhaps this is the primary reason God selected Abraham and Sarah to found His special nation. It wasn’t just that they were righteous. They became world leaders. They were driven to bring the entire world to God. And so, their descendants became entrusted with that same mission – to set an example of piety and closeness to God for all mankind to see – and ultimately follow.
This is therefore one of the most pronounced qualities of the descendants of Abraham. We are just driven. We want to make a difference in the world – to make it a better place for all. It is simply a part of the basic fabric – the spiritual DNA – of a Jew, inherited from Abraham and Sarah. For this reason, the Jewish contributions to the world have been enormous and in virtually every area.
Of course, there is a downside to this as well. The Talmud writes that the Jews are the most “fierce” of the nations, and that if they had not been given the Torah, no nation would have been able to withstand them (Beitzah 25b). The meaning is similar to the above. Jews by nature are driven – to change the world. God therefore gave them the Torah to direct their passions positively – to set a positive example and bring the world closer to God. For if not for this, the Jews would make the rest of the world crazy – agitating for every other cause under the sun. This is basically why Jews are and always were at the forefront of almost every social and political cause – many very worthy but unfortunately many less so, some even positively destructive. For this is the quality God saw in the Jewish people when He chose them – and it is up to us to decide how to use it.