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Parashat Noach: The Tower of Babel

September 28, 2013 | Worship and High Holidays

Rabbi David Kalb

This week’s Parashah (Torah portion) is Parashat Noach, which tells the story of Noah and the Ark. It can be found in Bereishit/Genesis Chapters 6 to 10. The world becomes so evil in Noah’s time that God decides to flood the earth and start again. God selects Noah, since he is a righteous man, to save himself, his family, and two of every animal so that the world can be repopulated after the Flood.

Not long after the flood ends, and humanity begins anew in Chapter 11, the people of the earth decide to build a tower to reach the heavens. God punishes the builders by making them all speak different languages (before this time, all people on earth spoke the same language). By creating a situation where everyone speaks a different language, the people are unable to work together, and the building of the tower ceases. Thus, the tower is called the Tower of Babel, or Migdal Bavel.

A popular way to look at this story is that the people were trying to become like God by building a tower high in the heavens, and that they were punished for disrespecting God. I would like to suggest another possible answer.

The story of the Tower of Babel is really the story of a world that has discovered a new technology, bricklaying with mortar and stone masonry. How do they use their new found technology? They build a tower not for the betterment of humanity, but to aggrandize themselves. They do not build to help people who might have problems or are challenged in this new world, the poor, the hungry, the sick, and they certainly do not build the tower to get closer to God. Yes, they built a tower to reach the heavens, but they did not build a tower to reach God. God is not just in the heavens. God is everywhere, especially within us. We do not need to build towers to reach God. We build ourselves spiritually and ethically to reach God.

The story of the Tower of Babel makes us think about why we build. When a Synagogue builds a building, why are they building? When a government or a nonprofit organization builds a building, why are they building? When we build homes, why are we building? When we build, wherever we build, we need to be sure that we are building to make this world a better place, to help people. If we can do that, if can truly build for the right reasons, then we have constructed the greatest towers of all, the tower of kindness, the tower of love and the tower of spirituality.

Let us build these towers soon, let it be today, let it be this very moment.

Author’s Note:

One side point, there is song about the Tower of Babel called “Tower Of Babel” by Elton John. The song appears on the album “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” which was Elton John’s ninth studio album. The album was released in 1975. “Tower of Babel” is the second song on the first side of the album.

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