The concluding portion of this week’s Torah reading deals with the society that built the great Tower of Babel, and the beginning of the lifetime, and accomplishments of our father Abraham. To me there is a relevancy and immediacy to this theme as it appears in this week’s Torah reading.
What is described in the Torah is the creation of a totalitarian society, ruled by dictatorship, fear, and imposed thought and speech control. The Torah text itself sums up the entire situation in its prophetically profound, concise description – “and the society itself spoke only one language and the few same words.” Here you have a description of the destruction of minority opinion, freedom of speech and the right to be different and individualistic. In short, you have the description of North Korea, communist China, Cuba, Venezuela, Nazi Germany, and the former Soviet Union. You have George Orwell’s book “1984,” paraded before us as biblical literature. In such a society, truth, faith and optimism can never flourish. Faith itself is based upon freedom of choice and the worth of the individual. When the state or the government controls the speech, language, and culture of the society that it governs, then there is very little room for the advancement of faith and for societal growth generally.
One need only look at the wreckage wrought by the forces of thought and speech control that promised the utopian future of the 20th century, This only brought misery to well over 100 million people, without achieving any hint of that utopia being actualized.
The words that the Torah uses to describe the society of the Tower of Babel are striking in their simplicity and accuracy – “one language and the same few words.” It reflects the inability to tolerate other opinions and different words. It is the reason that Abraham is thrown into the ‘furnace of fire’ simply because he dares to be different and to expound the idea of monotheism in a society of enforced paganism.
The forces that ruled at that time could not tolerate even one voice of dissent and difference. The main problem that the Jewish people have faced over their long history is that they are basically different- in speech, dress, outlook, belief, and worldview. Even within the Jewish people there are forces that wish to stifle the faithful minority and to eliminate them from political and social influence and power.
It is interesting to me to note that those who shout the most loudly about individual rights and freedoms rarely are willing to extend them to others who may differ from them in ideology, and social customs.
It is not for nothing that we pride ourselves in being the children of Abraham and willing to stand up alone even against the so-called majority of the current Jewish world. This world has unfortunately lost its way in the name of false gods and bankrupt ideals. It has become totalitarian in its attitudes and behavior towards religion and the Orthodox Jewish world.
But just as our father Abraham persevered and overcame the society of the Tower of Babel, I am confident that this will be the future result in our Jewish world regarding our current situation – of political correctness, cancel culture and coercive behavior.
Rabbi Berel Wein