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Tower of Babel
Video 4 of 6
So the Torah is telling its story very, very concisely. In such a concise story you have to wonder if the Torah goes out of its way to include any little bits of detail that don't seem all that important? If you look carefully there is some of that detail here in the story. You could just scan through these nine verses, what would you take out here?
So for my money I would take out this. The people have this plan, they want to build this city, they want to build this tower, it's all great, but what about this? Hava nilbenah leveinim - comes let's make bricks. Venisrefa l'sreifa. Vatehi lahem haleveinah l'aven vehacheimar haya lahem lachomer. You've got the building materials, bricks that are thrown in the fire and they use mortar instead of pitch. This is sort of the building list, the inventory from Home Depot. I mean, it doesn't really seem that important what it was that they made this out of and what the construction process was. Why does the Torah waste basically one-ninth of the story on telling me this stuff?
So this is one further question I want to add with you, and then one final thing I want to just touch base with you, which is that if you're looking to conserve space in this story - again it's only nine verses, if for some reason or another it was important for you as an author to write this very, very concisely, what else could you do to make this a more concise story? So let's look carefully at their plot for a second. Vayomru ish el rei'eihu - I'm reading now from verse 3; Hava nilbenah leveinim venisrefa l'sreifa. Vatehi lahem haleveinah l'aven vehacheimar haya lahem lachomer. So this is their plot, one person says to another, come let's make bricks, let's throw them in the fire and bricks became for them like stone, and pitch became for them like mortar. Now look at verse four. Vayomru - and they said; Hava nivneh lanu ir - come let's build a city and let's build a tower, and it's; V'rosho bashomayim - its head will be - and his head will be in heaven. Thereby we'll make us a name so that we don't scatter.
Okay, what can you do to verse three and four in order to make this more concise? You could cut stuff out. What could you cut out over here? What you can cut out here, I believe, is there's an extra Vayomru. Look at it in the English; And they said to one another. Now nobody talked to the middle, right? It's just one people talking among themselves but you got this other And-they-said. Now why can't you take out one of these And-they-said? There's the same people talking the whole time, you know, it's one speech, why break it into speeches? Why the extra Vayomru? Why the extra And-they-said?
So I believe that this really holds a key for us. This double Vayomru is a key really to understanding the whole text, along with one other aspect of the double Vayomru, which is the sort of inverted way in which this plays out. Let me ask you this final question. Which do you think should come first? If you look at these two declarations, three and four, which ought to come first? Declaration number one is, let's make bricks and the bricks serve for them as stone. Declaration number two is, let's make ourselves a city and a tower with the top in heaven. Which makes more sense to come first? I mean if I were the tower builders, first you have a plan what you want to do, hey guys let's make ourselves a tower. Then somebody would say, yeah but what are we going to build it out of? You say, no problem we'll make bricks. I mean, that would be the normal way to do it. But over here it's inverted, isn't that strange? It's as if the first plan is to make bricks and then there's this plan to make a tower, that's kind of odd.
I think these two last observations are really key, (a) the inverted nature of verses three and four and (b) the double Vayomru.
The double Vayomru seems to signify the following. Don't think that this is one speech. Even though it's the same people talking, it's two distinct speeches, it's two different ideas, it's two different plans. This word over here Hava is actually signifying a plan. Hava - literally, come or let's. Literally, to give, give of yourselves. Hava nilbenah leveinim - come, let's do this. Again, Vayomru hava nivneh lanu ir. These two plans introduced by these words And-they-said, come let's do this, seems to indicate that it's not one plan with Part A, Part B, these are really two separate plans, which makes it all the stranger that the bricks should come first. It's almost as if the bricks is a plan in and of itself. It's like, what are you going to do with the bricks? Well we don't even know but we can make bricks, and then the plan becomes the tower.
That insight, I think, perhaps is a key to what this story is about. When we come back, what I'd like to do is see how that insight, the notion that there are two separate plans here, the first of which is to build the bricks, helps us to understand the other questions we had. Concerning the role of language, what the idea of making a name for themselves, what G-d had against the tower? All of the other things that we were concerned with, I think fall into place once we begin to see that. I'll come back next time and try to show you how I think that's so.
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