"...'Come, let us make bricks and burn them in fire.' And the brick
served them as stone, and the lime served them as mortar." (11:3)
The Torah introduces the episode of the building of the Tower of Bavel with
a description of the building materials which were used. Rashi comments that
since Bavel was a plain, having no mountains and rocks, the inhabitants of
the area were forced to manufacture their own bricks. Of what
significance is this information to the overall understanding of the entire
Prior to the advent of bricks and building materials, buildings were
constructed using stone hewn from a quarry. There is a crucial difference
between living in a home constructed of bricks and one constructed of stone;
when inhabiting a stone building, a person senses that he is living in
Hashem's world, for he is surrounded by materials which come directly from
nature and are relatively untouched by man. When a person bakes bricks,
using them to construct his home, he may have the feeling that his abode is
separate from Hashem, for he himself has processed the materials used to
Rashi comments on the verse "u'devarim achadim" - "of common purpose" that
the inhabitants of Bavel conspired against the "yichudo shel olam", the
notion that Hashem is the sole power over the entire universe. It was
their perception that the world was theirs, devoid of Divine authority, and
they conspired to attack the authority that resided in the heavens.
The reason for the emphasis on the brick being used as a building material
is succinctly captured by the Ibn Ezra who comments on the verse "vatehi
lahem haleveina le'even" - "and the brick served them as stone", saying that
they used bricks instead of stone. Their preference for bricks reflected
their perception that they were living in a world which they themselves
created. They deluded themselves into believing that Hashem no longer
exercised His authority over this world.
All too often, we ourselves become blinded by mankind's technological
advancements. As man progresses in his technological pursuits, he becomes
more prone to losing sight of the fact that Hashem is the ultimate authority
in this world.
2.11:1, According to Rashi's first interpretation, they wanted to wage war
with Hashem, who resides in the heavens.
The Covering Of Shame
"And Shem and Yefes took a garment,
laid it upon both their shoulders"(9:23)
The Talmud relates that Cham, upon finding his father inebriated,
emasculated him in order to prevent Noach from fathering more children, who
would diminish his share in the world. When they saw their father's
condition, Shem and Yefes covered his nakedness with a garment. Rashi
records that as a reward for Shem's added alacrity, his descendants would
wear Tzitzis, tassels which hang from four-cornered garments. Yefes merited
that his descendants lying slaughtered on the battlefield would receive the
dignity of burial. What must be understood is how their rewards are
commensurate with their actions. Why is there such a great disparity between
the rewards of the two brothers? Why does Shem's quicker reaction merit that
his descendants should wear Hashem's insignia upon their clothing?
Clearly, Chazal understand that while physically there is no great disparity
between Shem's and Yefes' actions, the small lapse in time reflects the fact
that their motivations for covering their father were worlds apart.
Yefes' fourth son was Yavan, the father of Greece. Therefore, Chazal
identify Yefes as being the predecessor of Greek culture and philosophy. The
name Yefes is derived from the Hebrew word "yafeh" - "beautiful".. One of
the most prominent aspects of Greek culture was the glorification of the
perfect human physique in its naked state. The earliest accounts of the
Olympic games record athletes performing unclothed. No collection of Greek
sculpture can be found without evidence of their tremendous fixation with
the perfect body in a state of undress. This is a reflection of the Greek
hedonistic attitude of serving the body. The Greeks viewed the naked body as
the ultimate symbol of perfection, and clothing only as a means for hiding
any imperfection. In contradistinction, the Jews, descendants of Shem (from
which the term "Semite" is derived) who are constantly aware of being in
Hashem's presence, behave with a sense of Tznius - modesty and dignity.
Tznius requires that the body be clothed.
When Shem discovered his father, his immediate reaction was to cover Noach's
nakedness, for he viewed nakedness as undignified. Yefes did not react to
Noach's nakedness until he realized that his father's body had been
mutilated. When Yefes saw this, he sprang into action, for according to his
point of view, only a perfect body should be exposed; once mutilated, the
body should be covered.
Shem's and Yefes' rewards reflect the motivations for their actions. Since
Shem viewed clothing as the means by which to bring dignity to the body, he
was rewarded with the most dignified form of clothing, the Tzitzis, which
bear Hashem's insignia. Since Yefes viewed the mutilated body as being in a
state of degradation, and did not want it to be exposed for this reason, he
merited that his descendants' corpses would not lie in shame on the
battlefield, but would be dignified with burial.
2.9:23, see also Tanchuma 15
3.Tosafos Menachos 43b