THE TOWER OF BABEL
“And the whole earth was [of] one language and one speech…..and they said, ‘come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top reaching the sky, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we become dispersed across the face of the earth.”
“….they came with one counsel and said: it is not His right to choose the celestial spheres for Himself. Let us ascend to the heavens and wage war against Him.” (Breishis 11:1,4 – Rashi)
Ages ago, in the valley of Babel, a tumultous crowd decided to do battle with G-d.
How could they be so foolish?
In our shiur this week we will explain that they actually understood a great deal. In fact, the valley of Babel is much closer than we believe.
Man is created in the image of G-d.
He is the earthly manifestation of spirituality, representative of a higher dimension. Every element of creation plays a role in his formation, for he incorporates within himself the totality of all being. No aspect of G-dliness finds expression anywhere on earth, except in the life of man. Only man, whose very soul is Heaven’s breath, contains within himself the depth of infinity, hint of a world beyond our own.
“….if the spirit of one’s fellows is pleased with him, the spirit of G-d is pleased with him; but if the spirit of one’s fellows is not pleased with him, the spirit of G-d is not pleased with him.” (Avos 3:13)
Maharal explains that the spirit of G-d is intricately involved with the spirit of man. Hence, man’s relations with his peers mirror his relationship with G-d.
Even more, G-d refers to Israel as His own twin (Midrash on Shir HaShirim 5:2); for the age of mankind parallels G-d’s entry into history.
In a sense, with the onset of creation G-d limits Himself, restricting spirituality to the finite realm of Israel; their study of Torah and their practice of Halacha.
Israel is the image of all mankind, reflecting the eternal man who encapsules all of creation.
The people of Babel understood all this, recognizing that mankind is the sole center of existence. They build a united city, and a huge tower at its center, around which all of creation revolves.
They knew that if all mankind would unite under its own banner, if the entire world, without exception, were to concoct an independent reality, G-d would acquiesce to an alternate existence.
They do battle with G-d. A universe without spirit in a dimension of its own.
Imagine a stadium filled to capacity, with seventy thousand people screaming with one voice as their favorite player hits, kicks, or throws, a little round ball.
To the outside observer, this mass crowd is united in harmony, unabashedly racing together towards their common goal.
But, in fact, this supposed unity is extremely superficial. What if one of our fans turns to the man in front: “Excuse me, sir, can you sit down, please? You’re blocking my vision!”
Riots have been known to occur over much lighter requests.
If people go out every evening to enjoy the nightlife, have a few drinks, why is the local bar always a scene of violent confrontation?
If men and women are forever ‘in love’, why do they break up so frequently?
The answer is this: a unity built around the professed friendship of mortal man is destined to fail.
The non-believer lives in a one-dimensional world, and therefore, his true concern revolves around himself. The presence of company enables him to enhance his own enjoyment, so he selfishly feigns interest in the welfare of others. His relationships are artificial, friends of circumstance whose present interests happen to coincide. The moment the situation evolves, and tensions arise, he quickly switches allegiance, loyal only to his quest for added profit and pleasure.
Whether it be a new girl, a better seat, or a different taste, the pull for personal advantage ultimately destroys each fleeting union.
Man only pretends to speak the same language. In truth, he knows only one word – ‘me’.
And G-d descends – to reveal a world at odds, one man breathing down the neck of his friend, a raucous babble where no one is understood.
This is our answer to those who question why our community is so often devoid of harmony. We are only human. We will never be unified until there is Unity. Without the higher purpose that grants meaning to all of life, every individual pulls in a direction of his own, putting himself at the center of the city and its tower.
Our present exile at the hands of Esav, in the home of Christianity, and at the center of the Western world, has a city and tower of its own.
The cross of crucifixion represents more than man on a stake.
That man reflects, in their view, all of mankind, and, like Adam HaRishon, they claim, his pull in four directions spreads his influence across the totality of existence.
This outlook is a natural outgrowth of modern man’s perception of life, a world dominated by man, and ruled by the one who thinks he is God.
It is the Tower of Babel – second edition.
We laud the progress of ‘globalization’, oblivious to the curtain that is destined to fall.
In a uniform society that sings the same songs, laughs at the same jokes, and plays the same game, Mickey Mouse is king, and Michael Jordan is master of the world.
Then, as now, one man stood by, observing the silly spectacle.
Though Avraham remained eternally faithful to G-d, he posed no threat to Babel’s goal of unanimity. “He is a barren mule”, they laughed, “the Jewish people have no future”.
We are a lone voice, crying in the wilderness, watching with fear the towering skyscrapers that race towards the heavens.
“Of what use are the rabbis to us!”, they cry, “are you not aware that the Internet has conquered the world!”
At times, evil spreads its wings over all the world as it beckons all to join its boisterous chorus. When the world is consumed, even the righteous are swallowed alive, and all communication flows through the mouthpiece of the powerful. Even words of the wise are distilled and distorted, filtered through the sieve of foreign values, trivialized to the point of fairy tales, reconciled with the sensitivities of a politically correct world.
One can only cry, like Jonah in the belly of the whale, “In my pain, I call out to G-d!”
Our Sages have described a man who can never be swallowed.
“Said Rav Huna: What [is meant] by the verse, “why do You look upon the treacherous, quiet while the wicked swallow a man ‘Tzaddik Mimenu’ – more righteous than he?” (Chabakuk 1:13) Can a wicked man swallow a Tzaddik? Is it not written: “and G-d will not abandon him to his hand?” (Tehillim 37:33)
“Rather, ‘Tzaddik Mimenu’ – ‘more righteous than he’ – can be swallowed, but ‘Tzaddik Gamur’ – a complete Tzaddik – can never be swallowed.” (Brachos 7b)
One man’s righteousness is defined by the world around him – ‘more righteous than he’. To him, all men exist on the same plane, some better and some worse, but one frame of reference for all. Yes, he is judged a Tzaddik – but, only in relation to the rest.
He lives in the city, and climbs its tower.
In contrast, the wholeness of the ‘Tzaddik Gamur’ is a righteousness that lies within himself. He cannot be compared to others, because he relates to noone but G-d.
His world is defined in the Beis Medrash, and there alone. Such a man can never be swallowed by the outside world – his life is self-contained.
He speaks Lashon HaKodesh and he stands on his own, alone, waiting patiently, far from the tower that is sure to crumble.
JerusalemViews, Copyright (c) 1999 by Rabbi Heshy Grossman and Project Genesis, Inc.