After Adam sinned and G-d saw that it was impossible to achieve by natural processes a state in which all of mankind would be good, He decided to create a single emissary, one nation which would be anointed as G-d's Messiah on earth, a light unto the nations to teach them G-d's ways. This Messiah, this chosen people, was Israel. Israel were called "Adam" because it was they who were to continue the mission of Adam, who was created for this purpose yet failed. For two thousand years, G-d searched for the man who would undertake Adam's mission but execute it differently, who would fashion a nation - from his seed - which would be G-d's elect, a holy nation that would sanctify itself and thereby influence the world to accept the yoke of Heaven.
G-d waited two thousand years, searching the world over to find one person who would be worthy to have this nation emerge from him. Yet, He did not find him until he enhanced the intellect and understanding of our forefather Abraham, making him ready for this mission if he would only use that understanding for self-sacrifice. This is the intent of Bereshit Rabbah 30:8, which stated that Abraham "was ready to direct the whole world in repentance." Clearly, greatness cannot emerge from lowliness, and G-d perfects the spirits of certain beings for greatness. Yet, if they do not use this Divine gift, it goes to waste. As our sages said (Esther Rabbah, 6:3), "Noach was ready to recognize his Maker", yet he did not sacrifice himself for this. Abraham's intellectual improvement came about through his being from a family that was close to the monarchy and to priests of idolatry. It is obvious that this was so, for they certainly would not have allowed just anyone to fashion and sell idols as they did with Terach [his father]. Since Abraham was in this position, he had the opportunity to learn and ponder. The same goes for Moses. G-d arranged for Moses to grow up with Pharaoh so that he would be surrounded by royalty and greatness. All the same, whoever is unready for self-sacrifice forfeits G-d's improvement. Nedarim 32a teaches, "When Abraham was three, he recognized his Creator, as it says, "It is because ["ekev" in Hebrew] Abraham obeyed My voice [and kept My charge, My commandments, My decrees and My laws]" (Gen. 26:5). Abraham lived 175 years, and "ekev" has the numerical value of 172. It is thus interpreted that out of his 175 years, he kept G-d's charge for 172 - "ekev" - years, i.e. all but the first three. Rambam explains (Hilchot Avodah Zarah 1:3): Weaned, but still a toddler, Abraham's thoughts began to soar. Day and night this great spirit would ask himself how our world could function without a master. He wondered who was directing it, for it could not possibly direct itself. No one had taught him or informed him of anything. He was immersed in Ur Kasdim among foolish idolaters, his father and mother and his whole nation, and he worshipped with them. Gradually his understanding grew until he grasped the truth through apt perceptions. He knew that there was just one G-d and that He conducts the world and created everything, and that in all the universe there is no G-d but Him. He knew that the whole world had erred, and that their error was due to their having worshipped the stars and images until they lost the truth.
Abraham's knowing his Maker began with his understanding as a small boy that idols are meaningless. Terach made and sold them, and the boy certainly saw how they were made and understood that something man made cannot cannot possibly be man's master. Our sages said (Bereshit Rabbah, 38:13). "R. Chiya, grandson of R. Ada of Jaffa, said: Terach was an idol worshiper. One time he went out and left Abraham to sell idols for him. When a customer came in to make a purchase, Abraham would ask how old he was, and he would reply that he was fifty or sixty. Abraham would then say, woe to the sixty-year old who wishes to worship something one day old. The customer would be embarrassed and leave. One time a woman came, carrying a plate of fine flour, and said, take this and place it before the idols. Abraham took a staff and broke all the idols, placing the staff in the hands of the largest idol. When his father returned, he asked Abraham who had done this, and Abraham responded: I cannot lie to you. A woman came with a plate of fine flour and told me to place it before the idols. I did so and they all began arguing over which one would eat first. Then that large one took the staff and smashed the others. Terach then said: Why are you mocking me? Do they have minds? Abraham responded, can your ears not hear what your mouth is saying? Terach took him and handed him over to Nimrod. Nimrod said to him, let us worship fire, and Abraham replied , let us worship water which douses fire. Nimrod said, then let us worship water, and Abraham replied, if so , then let us worship the clouds which hold the water. Nimrod said, let us worship the clouds. Abraham replied, let us worship the wind which disperses the clouds. Nimrod said, let us worship the wind. Abraham replied, let us worship man, who is not moved by the wind. Nimrod said, this is all just talk. I only bow down to fire. Now I shall throw you into it, and let the G-d that you bow down to come and save you."
Thus, once Abraham's belief was complete, he proceeded to risk his life for the Oneness of G-d, treating idolatry with contempt. First, he did so with his father's idols, and then he went out and chastised the public. Abraham completed his spiritual development by not retreating or denying his faith, instead sanctifying the name Heaven (see Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer, Ch. 26, where it says that before he was thrown into the fiery furnace,he also sat in prison: "His second trial was his being imprisoned for ten years, three in Cutha and seven in Kardu.") This is how Abraham grew to greatness. G-d searched for someone fit to inaugurate the era of Torah, someone from whom the Chosen People could emerge and become G-d's anointed emissary to disseminate the true Jewish idea throughout the world. Such a person had to be unique, someone who would find the truth himself and be ready to risk his life for it without and prophecy or revelation by G-d until after he had passed his test. The true believer is known solely for his complete bitachon, his readiness to sacrifice his life for Kiddush Hashem. Our sages said (Shir HaShirim Rabbah, 1:13): "My beloved is to me a bundle of myrrh" (Song of Songs 1:13): R. Azariah, in the name of R. Yehudah, interpreted this verse as dealing with Abraham: Just as his myrrh heads the list of spices [Ex. 30:23, for the sacred anointment], so is Abraham at the head of all saints. Just as this myrrh gives off no scent without fire, so were Abraham's deeds unknown until he was thrown into a fiery furnace. In other words, there was no proof of the genuineness of Abraham's faith until he was ready to sacrifice himself for Kiddush Hashem, trusting not that he would be saved, but in the truth of G-d's existence and in His ultimate victory. Having bitachon does not mean trusting that if one does a specific act he will be saved or that G-d will give him what he wants. When Abraham was ready to fall into a fiery furnace, he was not certain he would be saved, yet he was still ready to do it for the sake of Kiddush Hashem. He was certain of G-d's existence. Precisely his brother, Haran, who linked his trust in G-d to that G-d would perform a miracle for him, was killed. As our sages say (Bereshit Rabbah, 38:13): Haran was there, and he had conflicting thoughts. He said, "Either way! If Abraham wins, I will say that I am with Abraham, and if Nimrod wins, I will say that I am with Nimrod." When Abraham entered the fiery furnace and was saved, they asked Haran, "Whose side are you on?" and he answered that he was with Abraham. They took him and threw him into the fire, and his innards burned up... He died in sight of Terach his father.
We see that G-d does not perform miracles for those who rely on them. That is not bitachon at all but knowledge that one will be saved. Bitachon comes into play precisely where there is danger, when a person does not know whether he will be saved, yet trusts in G-d anyway, championing Divine truth destined to win out. This self-sacrifice is the pinnacle of bitachon, as stated, and from it stems Kiddush Hashem. Kiddush Hashem is a trait that nothing else transcends; and because Abraham was ready to sanctify G-d's name even at the cost of his life, he merited to be chosen as G-d's select son, from whom would emerge lofty, holy seed.
The Jewish people were conceived through the self-sacrifice of their founder, our forefather Abraham, and only through such self-sacrifice, the climax of accepting the yoke of Heaven, was it possible to anoint the messenger nation of G-d. The Jews are unique because they possess the truth and are, moreover, obligated to preserve in their self-sacrifice on its behalf, even if standing alone like Abraham, the first Jew.