Genesis 18:1-8 finds Avraham recovering from his circumcision in the heat of the desert day. Yet, when he sees three men appear, he runs to greet them and invite them into his tent to refresh themselves.
The Midrash tells us that after Avraham would feed his guests, he would ask them to recite a blessing to thank “God above” and thereby teach them about monotheism. (Bereshit Rabbah 43:7)
This characteristic is what some say made Avraham greater than Noah. When faced with the prospect of God destroying the world because humanity had fallen so far from their Creator, Noah followed the command to build the ark and save his own family, but did not reach out to try and change the people around him.
Avraham on the other hand, taught the pagans around him about God, and the proof of this is the large group of “converts” that Avraham and Sarah brought with them into Cana’an. (hanefesh sh’asu b’charan – Genesis 12:5)
However, when Avraham’s grandson Yaakov goes down to Egypt to reunite with his own son Yoseph, there are only 70 people travelling with Yaakov – and all of them are immediate family members! What happened to all the “converts”?
They slipped back to their pagan origins!
If that’s the case, why is Avraham considered to be so much greater than Noah? He didn’t succeed in the end!
I’d like to suggest that in fact he did succeed.
For Noah to successfully raise one son, Shem, who would carry on his tradition of ‘righteousness”, God had to destroy the entire evil society around Noah and his family. There were no outside negative influences.
On the other hand, Avraham understood that he had to create a “village” of righteous converts who would provide a nurturing environment and a barrier to evil from within which Avraham and Sarah successfully raised Yitzchak to carry on the family monotheistic traditions. The evil society did not have to be destroyed.
That is why God gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish people. In a world that is becoming increasingly evil, Israel is our “village” where we are supposed to create a spiritual environment so that our children can (b’ezrat HaShem) grow up to be righteous Jews like Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov and fulfill our destiny of being as a “Light to the Nations.”