• Rabbi Chaim Richman

The Tower of Babel: A Cautionary Tale for our Time

In the Torah portion of Noach, after the earth had healed from the flood, we encounter the saga of the Generation of the Dispersion, the builders of the Tower of Babel.


They sought to build a city and a tower, but their true intention was to wage war against G-d.


The story really begins with Nimrod. In Gen. 10:8 we read, ‘And Cush begot Nimrod, he was the first to be a mighty man on earth. He was a mighty hunter before Hashem, therefore it is said, like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before Hashem…’


Nimrod, which could be translated as ‘we shall rebel,’ was a grandson of Ham, father of Canaan, His goal was total mastery over others, over everyone…even over Hashem. He made himself king and he took control of the people of his generation; in fact he was the world’s first king, as the verse states (10:9)… ‘He was the first to be a mighty man on earth.’


A master manipulator, he said to the people, ‘let’s build a city and dwell there, lest we be scattered, and we’ll build a big tower there and climb up to heaven and make a name for ourselves.’


As the great Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains, Nimrod was the first to turn being a mighty man into a profession. Being a mighty man was his entire life’s mission. He created this profession thru exercising considerable force; he was ruthless and cunning.


He wasn’t just a mighty man, but a hunter who hunted and caught human beings. Nimrod was the first man to blend violence with cunning to catch men for his plans. Nimrod was ‘a mighty hunter before Hashem.’ That doesn’t mean ‘in the name of G-d;' but rather testifies to his misuse of the name of G-d…he suppressed his fellow men in Hashem’s name. The very name which stands for love and kindness, and freedom for all people. At first he cloaked his domination under the ruse of it being pleasing to G-d, and then demanded recognition of his power in the name of G-d, but then he himself became a god. He was the first, the prototype of all those who craftily crown themselves with a halo of self-proclaimed holiness, but whose real agenda is the enslavement of men.


Nimrod’s goal was the mental enslavement of men, the crushing of the individual will and spirit in the name of progress and technology. He built a community that joined forces to subdue G-d. Nimrod set up what he sold as a model community. All for one and one for all. But without Hashem, with the elimination of the Divine image in which each individual man was created, there is no community, there is only exploitation.


Thus a famous teaching informs us that the project of building the tower reached a level of organization and mechanization that surely must have been the wonder of the world…but in a chilling revelation of just how the community was valued over the individual, in a disturbing vision of the role of technology in man’s life, our sages teach that when a stone, hoisted and raised towards the top of the tower with an elaborate system of pullies and ramps and cranes…when a building stone inadvertently slipped and dropped to the bottom, everyone would stop their work and wail and cry bitterly for the setback and delay in completion…but when a human being, a fellow worker fell to his death, everyone kept right on working without pausing for a moment. In the face of technology and the advancement of their goals, this mechanized society rendered human life meaningless.


So the avowed goal of this project was to cast the kingdom of Heaven from upon them – and Hashem let them. He set them up. This is the meaning of Psalms 2:4, ‘He who sits in Heaven will laugh, Hashem will mock them.’


So through this tower, under Nimrod’s leadership, the people of this generation sought to banish G-d from the lives of men altogether, they wanted to usurp His position… 'get out of here,' they said; 'you stay up there on top, we’ll take over the bottom.' Thus: This tower in the valley of Shinar was designed as the ‘twinner,’ the negative image of the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. They wanted their tower, their ‘Dark Tower,’ to be the guiding light for mankind.


This was a war of the wills…their will against Hashem’s.


Making a name for ourselves. The enslavement of mankind to false values. The destruction of the individual. The deification of false leaders. The worship of technology. The lust for fame. The desire to be in control. The desire to be G-d. Have we learned anything? This Torah portion remind us that we are not in control. We need to appreciate Hashem in our lives, and we need to appreciate and recognize our own limitations. Like Noach, we need to acknowledge that we are people, in Hashem’s world, in Hashem’s plan, who need Hashem, who desperately want Him in this world, and who live by boundaries and rules. This is our turn to be alive. This is how we take our place in the march of the generations and reflect the Divine image in which we were created.


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