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Tower of Babel
Video 3 of 6
Now if we think carefully about that, there's a couple things we'll want to know about. Number one is, what does it really mean make a name for ourselves? How do we understand that? Does it mean they'll be known for the tower? What exactly does it mean to make a name for yourself? But beyond that let's ask how is it that their solution - again - is going to solve their problem? They're going to build a tower, I can understand how a tower might help make a name for yourselves but how is a tower going to help you not scatter? Again, a fence would make more sense. If I really wanted to make sure that people don't scatter, I would make a fence, how is the tower going to make sure that - everyone could sleep in the tower? That everyone would have to work in the tower? It doesn't seem like that, it doesn't say anyone is going to live there, it more seems like a monument. How is this monument going to make sure that people cannot leave or won't leave?
To give a kind of analogy, if you would imagine a mayor struggling with issues of flight - suburban sprawl and flight away from the inner city. He convenes a city council and they're going to come up with some sort of plan. Various different folks say, well we could increase taxes, we could create certain business incentives for people staying close to the center of the city. But then somebody has a great idea and says, no, I've a great idea, right in the middle of Central Avenue, let's make a monument, let's make a tower. It will go really, really high. Then for sure no one will leave. Everyone is going to look at him like he's crazy, how is the tower going to make sure that no one is going to leave? Is everybody going to live there? How is that going to accomplish the task? So how does the existence of the tower make sure that people aren't going to leave?
The other issue also is, if you think about these two things, also just how do they relate to each other? It seems like there's two different motivations for building the tower. How do they fit with each other? Motivation number one, we'll make a name for ourselves. Motivation number two is we might scatter. So the tower was supposed to (a) make a name for yourselves, (b) keep you from scattering. Well which is it? Is it one? Is it the other? Is it both? It's - make a name for ourselves so that we don't scatter? How is it that we understand the relationship between the two and how will making a name for yourself - again - keep you from scattering?
All right, so these are some questions again having to do with this issue here, concerning what were the builders' motivation for actually building the tower? What are the other questions that come to mind?
Okay, other issues. Here's an issue. What's the deal with G-d? G-d seems unduly threatened here. I mean You're G-d, You're the Master of the Universe, some piddling human beings are going to build a tower, how high are they really going to get anyway? I mean, You know this is ridiculous. You're worried? Am echad v'safah achat lekulam v'zeh hachilam la'asot - these people of one language, this is what they've begun to do, they'll never stop. What are they - who knows how much they'll accomplish? Why are You so worried? What are they are going to accomplish anyway? Why would G-d, the Master of the Universe be threatened in that kind of way? It just seems very odd.
Okay, some other questions. What about the role of language in this story? What is this story really about? I would say it's about people want to build a tower and annoy G-d. G-d is annoyed at the tower for some reason. They've got these reasons why they want to build a tower that seem kind of strange. But that's what the story is about, it's about building a tower and then the people getting defeated with building a tower. What does language have to do with all of this? The story begins with language, it's an issue. Vayehi kol ha'aretz safah echat - people were - spoke one language. The story ends with them getting mixed up languages. How does that fit? Does that organically fit within the story? Or is that just thrown in there for color?
Let me sort of ask you to put yourself in G-d's shoes for a moment. If you were G-d, and you were faced with these poor, piddling mortals who were building this tower and you thought for whatever reason it was that this was a really Bad Idea - capital B, capital I. A very, very, Bad Idea. You wanted to do something to stop the tower and you're G-d, what would you do to stop the tower? You get one chance and only one chance - the kind of thing that caused devastation in San Francisco in the early twentieth century? Something like that would certainly show your displeasure, would intimidate people. You can have lightning bolts come down from heaven and actually zap the tower and completely destroy it. You could have a tidal wave, a tsunami; you could do anything you wanted. Have a sky writer which is, this is G-d I hate the tower, followed by a lightning bolt. Anything like this would destroy the tower.
Yet, what tool does G-d choose? G-d chooses language. Which doesn't even seem like good work by the way. I mean, so you say, oh I have a great idea, let's change their language [laughs] - right? Then that's going to stop them from building the tower. So they're going to wake up in the morning and there's going to be this big, practical joke, because this guy is going to say can you please pass me the wrench and the other guy is going to say [speaking in French] Ou est la poste? In France. They're going to say what did you say? Then another guy is going to say it in Italian, and no one is going to understand what's going on. Then they'll for sure stop building the tower, right? No one is going to stop building the tower. What would you do? How long would it take it for everyone to realize okay, somebody played a practical joke over here, some guy would get up with the wrench and would show the wrench to everybody and would say, hi everybody, here wrench. You create a sign language dictionary or how many words would you really need, you'd need 100 words, really? I mean, how - it doesn't take that much to build a tower. So you'd come up, you'd build a new language within three days and you'd be on building the tower.
But the interesting thing about it is not only does G-d choose a strange way of destroying the tower, it actually works. They actually have their language mixed up and then they scatter and nobody is interested in building the tower anymore. What happened? But I thought you wanted to build the tower so much? So the strange thing is G-d chooses a very weird way of stopping them and it actually works. So what's the deal with that?
Here are some of the questions I think that should bother us in looking through the story, what are some of the others? So consider that and let's come back and discuss it.
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