Volume 6 Issue 2
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
The lessons of the flood were just washed away. 340 years later the humans
were up to their rebellious antics. This time, however, they were unified
in rebellion. They decided that they would battle the Almighty by building
a Tower that would ascend to the heavens. But their plans would topple
like a house of cards. Hashem turned to his celestial hosts and declared,
"Let Us descend and confuse their language that they should not understand
one another's language" (Braishis 11:7).
Havoc reigned. When one construction worker asked for a brick he was
handed a hammer. Someone asked for a ladder and they got a trowel. The
only thing being built was discord and mistrust. Within days the project
fell apart and the people and their languages were dispersed.
Why, however, did Hashem choose to destroy this project through a most
delicate manner. Why not have a wind topple the tower or an earthquake
shatter it. What message did Hashem send by confusing the languages?
Jacob M. Braude, a former Illinois judge, tells the story of an American
visiting the UK who was driving with an Englishman through London. During
their trip some mud splattered on the car and the Englishman commented that
the car's windscreen needed a cleaning.
"Windshield," retorted the American.
"Well, on this side of the pond we call it a windscreen."
"Then you're wrong," argued the American. "After all, we Americans
invented the automobile, and we call it a windshield.
"That is mighty dandy," snapped the Englishman. "But who invented the
My brother-in-law Rabbi Yitzchak Knobel, founder of Yeshiva Gedolah Ateres
Yaakov in Woodmere, once noted something amazing. Though Hashem acts
independently and needs not consult with any being before executing any
decision, the Torah on a few occasions has Him descending to observe, and
even consult with his celestial tribunal before taking action.
Last week, before creating man, the Torah quotes Hashem speaking, "Let Us
make man." This week, when deciding to confuse the language of humankind,
thus inhibiting the ability to communicate, Hashem also consults with
inferiors. "Let Us descend and confuse." Hashem does not say, "I will
descend and confuse." Both instances must be related.
The power of man over his co-creations is his ability to express his
innermost feelings and expressions. The creation of man was more than the
creation a physical entity with complex motor functions. It was the
creation of a being with the power of expression the power to
communicate. When Hashem decided to remove the ability to communicate, He
returned to his original tribunal the ones He originally consulted while
empowering speech in humankind.
The greatest downfall of humankind is the removal of his superiority over
the rest of the animal kingdom. That is accomplished when he does not
Recently, a billion dollar project to Mars was destroyed because the
language of the metric system was spoken in one factory and feet and inches
were spoken in the other.
Hashem taught those builders who wanted to reach G-d that their mortality
did not lie in lime or mortar. Rather it lay in the small intangible gift
that we all take for granted, yet is so fragile and not utilized
properly. Our mortality begins and ends with our power to talk properly
and for the correct reasons to our fellow human beings.
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Dedicated in memory of Reb Shimon Sumner by the Oliner Family
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Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
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The author is the Associate Dean of the
Yeshiva of South Shore.
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