Saturday, October 28, 2006
Babylon And On
While reading the Parsha this past Shabbos (Noach) I just had this little thought crossing my head;
The posuk first tells us that all peoples had “one language and one speech” – meaning that despite having their own languages, as mentioned in an earlier posuk, they had one language all spoke, besides for being in agreement and harmonious understanding. When they come to Shin’ar, they discover how to make bricks and mortar – a significant technological breakthrough for the times. Immediately they start building a city with a big tower in it, to prevent them from scattering throughout the earth as G-d has commended. So as soon as technology permits them to be a bit self-sufficient, they spit in G-d’s face. Sounds familiar?
Their sin is not explicitly stated in the posuk, yet Rashi explains that they wanted to build a tower to climb in the sky and fight G-d. Being a bit hard to accept at face value, I’d speculate that this might mean that the tower served indeed as an important establishment teaching the rejection of G-d and denying his kindliness to mankind.
G-d at this point makes one of the most powerful –and underestimated- statements in the Torah: since these people are in perfect union and total agreement, they would be able to achieve whatever they want and nothing would stand in their way. There it is, black on white, the blueprint for absolute success. Alas, this unity was for a bad cause. But it still had merits, for the Merciful One does not just send a 9.2-magnitude earthquake, tornado or wildfire as he did with the Dor Hamabul (Flood’s Generation) who stole, extorted and otherwise harmed and degraded each other. So G-d takes away their common language, and they are unable to complete their tower and are dispersed all over. But why? Isn’t a typical construction site composed of workers of different nationalities, barely speaking their own language let alone others? Couldn’t they learn each other’s tongues and complete the construction despite the lack of one common language? It seems to me that something deeper and subtler happened here. The verse states “Havo Nevoloh…” (let’s blend) their languages, i.e. mix them up so each would have their own separate speech (or just forget the common language). But the word “נבלה” can also mean “let’s make filthy” (whereas the single “nun” would serve as both a root letter and the prefix for “let’s” - this is permissible in biblical Hebrew, as opposed to the mishnaic where “ננבל” would be have been used) meaning to infiltrate discord in their words which would make them “filthy” and unacceptable to each other. This would be the litmus test to see which way to seal their fate – if they succeed in their plan and remain united despite dissent, they’d merit to stay together. But if their unity cannot survive disagreement, it would be a retroactive proof that it was superficial from the onset and only their desire to reject authority caused their union. The rest is history.
Another interesting observation – after the Second Temple’s destruction -because of vain hatred- most Jews eventually settled in Babylon, where the Babylonian Talmud was forged – an epitome of unity through dissent, where each and every statement is challenged from every possible angle to find truth, by a strongly unified people without personal strife.
Which Babylon do we choose?