The Greatest Non-Jew
by Rabbi Yaacov Chaiton
I've noticed that you've called your new Jewish History series "From Abraham to you". Are you implying that Adam wasn't Jewish?
Both Kabbalistic and Talmudic writings describe Adam as a man of immense stature. In a physical sense, because Adam's body was individually handcrafted by G-d Himself, he was the strongest and most handsome man who ever lived. In a spiritual sense, because G-d personally "blew into his nostrils the spirit of life", Adam had the most lofty and holy soul possible. In fact, we are told that Adam's soul contained within it the souls of all mankind who would be born afterwards. It is for this reason that the Hebrew word for "man" is "Adam" - because every human being was essentially part of Adam due to the fact that his soul was comprised of the souls of all mankind.
However, Rabbi Yehudah Halevi, the famous 12th century Jewish philosopher writes that while Adam may have had a Jewish soul (being that his soul included the souls of all Jews as well), he did not have the power to pass it down to the next generation. It was not until Abraham that the possession of a particular kind of soul became inheritable, that Judaism became something hereditary.
The more intrinsic something is to a person's being, the greater the possibility of it being passed down to the next generation. One's personal opinions and feelings are not genetically handed down to one's children, as they are by nature external to one's person, changing from time to time. Certain character traits are more core to one's being and are therefore often - but not always - transferable onwards. A human being will however always give birth to a human being, because being human is so much part-and-parcel of who we are that it is impossible that this "feature" not be passed on.
Abraham, through his own efforts, ingrained within himself such an intense love and a belief in G-d that it became much more than just a feeling or trait. His love for G-d became his core being to the extent that just as a human being will always give birth to a human being, so too the descendants of Abraham will always inherit that intrinsic love for G-d. Abraham was able to accomplish that which even Adam had been unable to do because unlike Adam who had been granted a great soul and had never had to toil to achieve it, Abraham achieved such a love through his own efforts, thereby making it part of his very being, something transmissible.
Central to being Jewish is the ability to pass on that Judaism to others. So while Adam may have had a very Jewish soul, he was not Jewish. The first Jew was Abraham, the man who made Judaism transmissible forever.