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Tower of Babel
Video 2 of 6
So; Vayehi kol ha'aretz safah echat u'devarim achadim - it happened, the world was of one language. U'devarim achadim - Devarim Achadim is actually a strange sort of phrase, seems to mean one speech or unified speech. Achad means one. So anyway, everybody spoke the same language, there were no such thing as different languages. Vayehi benasam mikedem vayimtze'u bike'ah b'eretz Shinar vayeishvu sham - so it happened as the people were travelling from the east that they found a plain, they found a valley; B'eretz Shinar - in the land of Shinar. Vayeishvu sham - and they settled there. Vayomru ish el rei'eihu - and then one person said to his friend, the people started talking amongst themselves, and they came up with a plan. What was the plan? Hava nilbenah leveinim venisrefa l'sreifa - come let's make bricks.
Interestingly by the way, I just want to show you here in the Hebrew; Nilbenah leveinim actually even though I translated it as make bricks, a better translation would be what? If you can read Hebrew you'll notice that the verb here is actually a verb form of the noun. Leveinim actually means bricks but the verb here is Nilbenah which really means if you translate it literally, let us brick bricks. It's interesting if you think about bricks why it is that the word bricks means bricks or why it is that bricks in Hebrew are Leveinim. What does Lavan remind you of? Right, if you can speak Hebrew, Lavan of course is most known to us for really as a color not as bricks - as white. So why would bricks be known as white? Well the very next words tell you. Venisrefa l'sreifa - let's throw them into the fire. When you make bricks the technology of it of course is that you take stuff and you throw it in a kiln and the kiln can get white hot - the stuff inside it gets white hot. It's that process of firing the bricks - I think that's even the way it's spoken of in English, to fire the bricks - is what makes them into bricks, that the bricks become bricks. So there's this white hot manufacturing process which create bricks, hence the name Leveinim for bricks.
Anyway; Vatehi lahem haleveinah l'aven vehacheimar haya lahem lachomer - so the bricks turned to them or become for them as stone. Vehacheimar haya lahem lachomer - and the cement that they made served as pitch, as something to hold together the bricks. So the people said to themselves; Hava nivneh lanu ir - come, let's build for ourselves a city; U'migdal - and a tower; V'rosho bashomayim - with its head in the heavens. V'na'aseh lanu shem - and let's make a name for ourselves; Pen nafutz al pnei kol ha'aretz - lest we scatter upon the face of the whole earth.
At this point; Vayeired Hashem lirot et ha'ir v'et hamigdol asher banu benei ha'adam - G-d comes down and figures He's going to have a look. G-d is going to come down and look at this tower that the people have built. Vayomer Hashem - and G-d says; Hein am echad - here is this one people; V'safah achat lekulam - and one language for everyone. Vazeh hachilam la'asot - and this they've begun to do. V'ata lo yibatzer meihem kol asher yazmu la'asot - and now nothing that they try to do after this, nothing that they plot to do, is going to be withheld from them. They'll be able to accomplish anything. Hava nerdah v'nivlah sham sefatam - let's go down and let's confuse their language; Asher lo yishme'u ish sefat rei'eihu - so that people won't be able to listen to one another, people won't be able to hear each other anymore.
Vayafatz Hashem otam misham al pnei kol ha'aretz vayachdelu livnot ha'ir - and at that point G-d scatters them on the face of the whole world and they stop building the city. Al kein karah shemah Bavel - that's why they called the name of the city Bavel. Bavel of course is Babylonia, the etymology the Torah suggests of that word it's actually a mixing up of the word Balal. This is actually interesting it's like a mixing up squared. The word Balal in Hebrew means to mix up, if you mix up Balal you get Bavel. So a mixed up version of mix up means Bavel because G-d mixed up there the; Sefat kol ha'aretz - the language of all of the land. So we have this mixed up language that is being used to connote mixed up language so to speak. U'misham hefitzam Hashem al pnei kol ha'aretz - and from there G-d scattered them upon the face of the whole world.
Okay there it is, a pretty simple story about nine verses and the question I have for you is, what questions would you ask about the story? What is strange about the story as you go through it?
So I'm just going to begin with one question and then ask you to consider whether there are any other ones. To me, the sort of elephant in the room question here, the very large question which is sort of right out there is one which sometimes we don't even notice is there, because we have preconceptions about the story. But let me just pose the question to you, which is what's so bad about this tower? What does G-d have against this thing? Often if I ask this question to people they say, well the people were rebelling against G-d, they were worshipping idolatry. But if you actually look at the text you don't get any indication of that whatsoever, it doesn't say that they were worshipping idols, it doesn't even say they were rebelling against G-d. They were building a tower, they wanted to build a city with this tower that went up to heaven, see what they could do. What's so bad about that?
If you look by the way at their language, what it is that their motivation is in building the tower - this is really another question, what is their motivation with building the tower? It actually seems pretty innocuous. Na'aseh lanu shem - they want to make themselves a name for themselves. What does that mean? They don't want to scatter. All right, so we understand people don't want to scatter; nowadays if you go to any large, metropolitan area, everybody is worried about where's the tax [base 5:51] going to go and suburban sprawl and getting people back to repopulate the inner city. So these people were the first city planners, and were concerned about that, that's such a terrible thing?
Besides, what did they want to do with this tower? They want to make something that they would be proud of; Na'aseh lanu shem - let's make a name for ourselves. What's wrong with making a name for yourself? If you think about it nowadays by the way, lots of people make names for themselves with towers. Anybody who has named a library at a university or has given the name - if you go to Skyscrapers Manhattan you'll find Trump Tower - people name [themselves after towers 6:20]. Why do they that? They do it because towers last a long time, they last longer than people do. So if you're looking for some way to kind of make it into immortality, putting your name on a building is a good thing to do.
Whether you look at a secular university or an Orthodox Yeshiva in the Jewish world, and you'll see the same thing, you'll see buildings all over the place. In Lakewood, in Ner Israel, in Yeshiva University, not to mention Johns Hopkins and Harvard - every single building is named after someone. What if you - I remember I actually went to Yeshiva and we had a dormitory which we used to jokingly call the morgue. We called it the morgue because there were so many plaques in the dormitory that it felt like you could just remove the plaque and the person's body would just - you know, this cadaver would just come right out from it. You'd just say - you know, these long, dark halls with these plaques lining them. If you think about somebody taking a hammer and just chiseling away at these plaques and the Executive Director of the Yeshiva would come to you and say, what are you doing? He says, well I'm just reading the Bible, it's just Tower of Babel. It's wrong to make yourself a name out of a building, it's a terrible thing to do, that's what we learn from the Tower of Babel. They wouldn't be very impressed, you know.
What does G-d have against what they're doing? It seems so innocuous. What is wrong with building the tower? So that is question number 1. The answer to question number one, what is wrong with building the tower, I think comes from noticing the other questions in the story. What are the other questions in the story? So take a look at that and let's come back and talk about it.
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