Migdal Bavel - מגדל בבל

The Tower of Babel

By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)

 


Tower Trouble. 3

Bricks. 6

Mesorah - מסורה. 7

Tikkun. 11

Exile. 12

A Deeper Look. 12

APPENDIX A.. 13

 

In this study I would like to explore the incident at Migdal Bavel, the tower[1] at Babel.[2] In that incident, the people decided to make it impossible for themselves to be scattered. In the end, HaShem scattered them for their sin. It was mida kneged mida, measure for measure. HaShem commanded Noach and his family to “fill the earth” after the flood. This generation decided that they did not wish to fill the earth, but rather to concentrate themselves in one place. Thus, in nine verses, the Dor Haflagah[3] went from being unified to being dis-unified.

 

Note the frequent usage of the first person plural in the description of the events at Shinar.

 

Bereshit Genesis) 11:1-4  Everyone on earth had the same language and the same words. And as they traveled from the east, they came upon a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another: Come, let us make bricks and burn them hard... And they said, Come let us build us a city and a tower[4] with its top in the sky, and we will make a name for ourselves - v’naaseh lanu shem - lest we shall be scattered all over the world. Then God came down to see...

 

EU Parlement building in Strasbourg. Designed after the incomplete tower of Babel.

EU Parlement building in Strasbourg.

Designed after the incomplete tower of Babel.

 

One key phrase in the Torah’s depiction of the tower’s purpose reflects the egocentric nature of this generation:

 

Bereshit Genesis) 11:4  we shall make a name for ourselves.

 

Rather than devoting themselves to the Name of HaShem, this generation removes Him from the picture altogether. The builders of the tower united for the unholy purpose of glorifying man’s dominion and power.

 

The commentators explain[5] the intent and sin that took place at the Tower of Bavel in the following manner: There was a desire on the part of many that the entire world’s population live in one place. They therefore desired to build a city and tower that would unite the world’s population in one locale.

 

This, however, was at odds with HaShem’s desire of “filling the world, and conquering it”,[6] that HaShem’s request of “settling [all of] creation[7] be achieved throughout the entire world, not only in one location.

 

This is also why HaShem commanded Noach to “Leave the Ark ... and fill the earth”.[8] In the Ark, all men and animals were confined to one narrow space. HaShem’s intent, however, is for the entire world to be “filled,” so that the whole world is transformed into a dwelling place for HaShem. And this, of course, is what Zayin MarCheshvan is all about.

 

In the end, none of the people in Shinar are identified by name, in the Torah, because they wanted to make a name for themselves. In contrast, Avraham who called upon the Name of HaShem,[9] was himself also called by name and given a new name.[10] At Shinar, Avraham rejected the plan of the people.

 

Abram was 48 years old at the time of the Tower of Babel; and Abram did not participate in the sin of Babel.

 

Avodah Zarah 19a R. Simeon b. Pazi expounded [that verse as follows]: ‘Happy is the man that hath not walked’ — i.e., to theatres and circuses of idolaters ‘nor stood in the way of sinners’ — that is he who does not attend contests of wild beasts;[11] ‘nor sat in the seat of the scornful’ — that is he who does not participate in [evil] plannings. And lest one say, ‘Since I do not go to theatres or circuses nor attend contests of wild animals, I will go and indulge in sleep.’ Scripture therefore continues, ‘And in His Law doth He meditate day and night.’ Said R. Samuel b. Nahmani in the name of R. Jonathan: Happy is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the wicked — that is our father Abraham who did not follow the counsel of the men of the Generation of the Division[12] who were wicked, as it is said, Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, with its top in heaven,’[13] nor stood in the way of sinners — for he did not take up the stand of the Sodomites, who were sinful, as it is said, Now the men of Sodom were wicked and sinful against the Lord exceedingly;[14] nor sat in the seat of the scornful — for he did not sit in the company of the Philistines, because they were scoffers; as it is said, And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said: Call for Samson that he may make us sport.[15]         

 

The Gemara describes the idolatrous nature of the people of Shinar:

 

Sanhedrin 109a THE GENERATION OF THE DISPERSION HAVE NO PORTION IN THE WORLD TO COME etc. What did they do? — The scholars of R. Shila taught: They said, ‘Let us build a tower, ascend to heaven, and cleave it with axes, that its waters might gush forth.’ In the West [sc. Palestine academies] they laughed at this: If so, they should have built it on a mountain!

 

R. Jeremiah b. Eleazar said: They split up into three parties. One said, ‘Let us ascend and dwell there;’ the second, ‘Let us ascend and serve idols;’ and the third said, ‘Let us ascend and wage war [with God].’ The party which proposed, ‘Let us ascend, and dwell there’ — the Lord scattered them: the one that said, ‘Let us ascend and wage war’ were turned to apes, spirits, devils, and night-demons; whilst as for the party which said, ‘Let us ascend and serve idols’ — ‘for there the Lord did confound the language of all the earth.’[16]

 

It has been taught. R. Nathan said: They were all bent on idolatry. [For] here it is written, let us make us a name;[17] whilst elsewhere it is written, and make no mention of the name of other gods:[18] just as there idolatry is meant, so here too. R. Jonathan said: A third of the tower was burnt, a third sunk [into the earth], and a third is still standing.[19] Rab said: The atmosphere of the tower causes forgetfulness. R. Joseph said: Babylon and Borsif[20] are evil omens for the Torah.[21] What is the meaning of Borsif? — R. Assi said: An empty [shafi] pit [bor].[22]

 

In Bereshit (Genesis) 11:2 we see that the people traveled east to arrive at shinar. Those who go east are going away from HaShem (See EAST). Thus we see that their motivation is not good despite the seemingly innocent words.

 

The suggested thematic connection between Migdal Bavel and the choosing of Avraham Avinu is supported by the Midrash that states that Avraham was forty-eight (48) years old when he recognized HaShem for the first time. Avraham Avinu reached age forty-eight in the same year that Peleg died[23] which, according to Chazal, corresponds to the precise year of Migdal Bavel - 1996 from the creation of the world. Recall that Avraham was born in year 1948!

(See also Appendix A)

 

Rashi gives us some insights on Bereshit 1:25 where he speaks about Peleg and the dispersion.

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 10:25 And to Eber were born two sons: one was named Peleg, because in his days the earth was divided, and the name of his brother was Joktan.  

 

RASHI:  was divided: The tongues became confused, and they were scattered from the valley and were dispersed throughout the entire world. We learn that Eber was a prophet, since he named his son for a future event [i.e.פֶּלֶג  resembles the word נִפְלְגָה meaning “dispersed.”]. And we learned in Seder Olam (ch. 1) that at the end of his [Peleg’s] days, they were dispersed. For if you say that [they were dispersed] at the beginning of his days, behold his brother Joktan was his junior, and he begot many families before that, as it is said (verse 26): “And Joktan begot, etc.,” and [only] afterwards, [is it written] (11: 1):”And the whole earth was one language.” Now if you say [that they were dispersed] in the middle of his [Peleg’s] days, [this is not so, because] Scripture does not come to make things obscure but to explain. Hence, you learn that in the year of Peleg’s death, they were dispersed.

 


Tower Trouble

 

Several towers, like the Migdal Bavel have been built which seem to predispose their owner’s to trouble.[24] Man’s attempts to construct the world’s tallest buildings right through from Bavel to the Burj, have resulted in economic disaster. 

 

Burj Khalifa in DubaiBurj Khalifa in Dubai: As the tallest structure in the world was nearing completion, Dubai World was asking its creditors to restucture its debt. The threat of default caused jitters in world markets. Abu Dhabi gave Dubai World a 10 billion dollar lifeline. It remains to be seen whether the tower will survive.

 

The Pan Am Building: Located in New York City, this was the largest commercial office building in the world when it opened on March 7, 1963. Pan Am, as a company, collapsed on December 4, 1991. The building was subsequently sold to Met Life as one of the pioneering Airlines faded from the scene.

 

The AT&T Building: Built in 1984, this 647 foot high rise building was completed just as a court ordered divestiture of the Bell system was taking place. AT&T’s subsequent collapse to form the Baby Bells was the end of this monumental corporation. Though the name was subsequently reused by the baby Bells, but the company never regained its lustre. This tower was sold in 2002 to the Sony Corporation.

 

The world’s first skyscraper, the Equitable Life building in New York, was completed in 1873 and coincided with a five-year recession. It was demolished in 1912.

 

Enron is another example. Enron was halfway into construction on a $200 million, 40-story skyscraper, with an eight-story trading floor when the company collapsed into bankruptcy in 2002. 

 

Willis Tower, best known by its previous moniker the Sears Tower, is the tallest in America and was the tallest in the world until Malaysia usurped them.[25] Chicago’s giant was commissioned in 1969 by Sears, as a headquarters befitting a company that was the world’s biggest retailer at the time. By the time it was completed in 1974, the US was in recession and a fuel crisis, and Sears’ dominance was over. The tower stood half empty for a decade. The twin towers of the World Trade Centre opened a year earlier and were similarly affected.

 

Before the Willis Tower, the noble art-deco masterpiece of the Empire State Building was the world’s tallest building, a record it held for an impressive 41 years. It was completed in 1931. Anyone remember what the economy was doing then? The Great Depression saw locals rename the building the Empty State Building, and it was 20 years before the owners turned a profit.

 

The following is from CNN,on August 6, 2013:

 

Hong Kong (CNN) -- If the Skyscraper Index maintains its track record, then China should steel itself for economic collapse. The infamous property index says construction booms that give rise to the world’s tallest buildings are the harbingers of economic busts.

 

On July 20, developers celebrated the groundbreaking of Sky City in the southern Chinese city of Changsha. It is set to be completed in 2014 and at 838 meters it would overshadow the Burj Khalifa in Dubai -- currently the world’s tallest building -- by 10 meters.

 

“The Skyscraper Index has a good 150-year correlation between the world’s tallest buildings and economic slowdowns and recessions,” says Andrew Lawrence, pioneer of the Skyscraper Index and head of Hong Kong and China property research at CIMB Group. “For China, there is no reason that correlation will change.”

 

According to the Skyscraper Index, the opening of every single “world’s tallest” building in the past century has coincided with an economic downturn in that country.

 

In the United States, builders installed the spire on New York’s Chrysler Building on October 23,1929 making it the tallest building in the world at 319 meters. Five days later, the Wall Street Crash wiped nearly 13% off the stock market and precipitated the country’s Great Depression.

 

In March 1996, Malaysia’s Petronas Towers were completed making it the world’s tallest building at 452 meters. Just sixteen months later, the Asian financial crisis hit the country and region. Malaysia’s stock market lost half of its value by the end of 1997.

And in Dubai, the 828-meter Burj Khalifa received its spire in October 2009. Two months later, a massive debt crisis slammed the Middle Eastern metropolis as the global financial crisis roiled world markets.

 

Similar economic storms have followed other imposing structures soon after their construction, including the Empire State Building and World Trade Center in New York and the Taipei 101 in Taiwan.

 

Does skyscraper boom herald economic doom?

Lawrence believes that both skyscrapers and economic busts are often closely associated with large expansions of credit.

 

“Like the one we saw in China post-2008,” he says.

 

In 2008, as the global financial crisis took hold, China launched a period of loose monetary policies to jump start its economy with liquidity and the hope of spurring investment.

 

Many analysts say those policies seeded a credit boom of easy money and a building boom of unneeded or ostentatious properties that are now coming back to haunt constructors and investors.

 

“China will be building over 40% of the world’s skyscrapers over the next four years so clearly there’s a building bubble,” says Lawrence.

 

Last week, the final beam was hoisted on the main structure of Shanghai Tower, which will soon become China’s tallest building.

 

At more than 600 meters, the building will be the second highest in the world, below the Burj Khalifa and ahead of Taiwan’s Taipei 101 building.

 

“They certainly were not bashful about wanting (one of) the tallest buildings ... here in Shanghai,” says Art Gensler, founder of the Gensler global design and architecture group. “They wanted something that was a symbol, and I believe this building will be the symbol of China.”

 

Meanwhile, anxiety is ramping up about what a collapse in China’s building boom might bring.

 

“The China story has taken a serious turn for the worse,” wrote Peking University finance professor and China expert Michael Pettis, in a July op-ed for CNN. “China, it now seems, is about to collapse, and along the way it may well bring the world economy down with it.”

 

If that were to happen, China’s Sky City -- with a nearly $1.5 billion price tag -- could be the country’s biggest landmark to its property largesse.

 

In July, official data showed the country’s economic growth slowed to 7.5% in the second quarter of this year -- its slowest pace in nine months, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Over the past three decades China had an average GDP growth rate of 10%.

 

Journalist Andrew Wood contributed to this report.

 

Bricks

 

In this section I would like to explore a very interesting idea that was raised by Rabbi Daniel Lapin. Rabbi Lapin said that bricks are the building blocks for the tower of Babel and the implements of slavery in Egypt. This suggests that bricks have something inherent in them, which is undesirable.

 

What are the difference between stones and bricks? Stones are created by HaShem and allude to a high level of holi­ness.

Stones are all different.

Stones are made by HaShem.

 

Bricks, by contrast, refer to activities which are reshut,[26] neither commanded nor forbidden,[27] but whose outcome, whether holiness or the opposite, depends on man’s intention.

Bricks are all alike.

Bricks are made by man.

 

Lets start by looking at the first use of the word brick - לבנה in the Torah. In this pasuk we see that the making of brick come before the desire to make something of the bricks. At the tower of Babel the goal was to make bricks, not to make a tower. Notice that bricks come first followed by what was to be done with the bricks:

 

Bereshit Genesis) 11:1-4 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. 2  And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. 3  And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. 4  And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.

 

Bricks were the goal! That is why the people were FIRST encouraged to make bricks, then to build a city and a tower. Bricks are made by man and are all identical. Stones are made by HaShem and each is unique. The goal of Bavel was to make all individuals the same, to destroy their uniqueness, to make bricks. One of the reasons that HaShem confused the languages at Babel was to make it very difficult to all be alike.

 

In the days of Moses, in Egypt, bricks were also the goal:

 

Shemot (Exodus) 1:14 And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in morter, and in brick, and in all manner of service in the field: all their service, wherein they made them serve, was with rigour.

 

The Torah records that bricks were used only in two regards: The Migdal Bavel and the building of Egypt by the Israelites. As the Israelites were enslaved, so too were the people of Bavel. As the people at Bavel received no pay for their service, so too were the Israelites deprived of their pay.

 

In the following pasukim we see that HaShem want us to use un-tooled stone and does not want brick used on His altar.

 

Shemot (Exodus) 20:25 And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.

 

Isaiah 65:1-5 I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name. 2  I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts; 3 A people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face; that sacrificeth in gardens, and burneth incense upon altars of brick; 4  Which remain among the graves, and lodge in the monuments, which eat swine’s flesh, and broth of abominable things is in their vessels; 5  Which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day.

 

The Netziv explains that the sentence about making bricks rather than using stone is a hint to this midrash; they needed a great furnace to produce the bricks.

 

Midrash Rabbah - Genesis XXXVIII:8 AND THEY SAID ONE TO ANOTHER (XI, 3) Who said to whom? Said R. Berekiah: Mizraim said to Cush. COME, LET US MAKE BRICKS, AND BURN THEM (WE - NISREFAH) THOROUGHLY: This is written we- nissorfah  (and we will be burnt): this people is destined to be burnt out of the world. AND THEY HAD BRICK FOR STONE, etc. R. Huna said: Their work prospered: a man came to lay one [stone] and he laid two; he came to plaster one [row] and plastered two.

 

The Dor Haflaga intentionally attempted to inhibit the growth and development of society, and, as the Rashbam points out, were thus disregarding the commandment from HaShem to have children and populate the land. Making bricks is a hint to this rebellion. HaShem did not want His people to be uniform like bricks. He wanted them to be unique, like rocks. To encourage this uniqueness, HaShem confused their language and speech so that they could not be controlled by a their government. Once free of this control they were free to be individuals. Hence, the confusion of languages and the dispersal of the people was not a punishment but part of a correction.  Diverse languages and areas make reunification almost impossible, thus ensuring variation among people and the development of different cultures.

 

Throughout the Tanakh,[28] bricks are always viewed negatively. They speak about uniformity, not diversity. Bricks are mentioned four times in the Tanakh. In connection with the tower at Bavel, the enslavement of the Jews in Egypt, by the prophet Isaiah,[29] and by the prophet Ezekiel.[30]

 

Mesorah - מסורה

 

The Torah tells us that from the time of creation until the incident at Bavel, that the whole earth had one language and one speech.

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 11:1 And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.

 

Why are we told one language AND one speech. Aren’t these the same thing? Clearly HaShem is trying to tell us that two facets of communication were the same. Chazal,[31] based on these two words, teach us that not only did everyone speak Hebrew, but when they spoke they actually communicated! The ideas in the speaker’s mind were exactly the same ideas that were understood by the listener. There was no mis-communication. There was no misunderstanding.

 

However, because of the sin at Bavel, HaShem confused the language and the speech.

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 11:6-9 And HaShem said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. 7  Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. 8  So HaShem scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. 9  Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because HaShem did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did HaShem scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

 

Midrash Rabbah - Genesis XXXVIII:8 AND THEY SAID: COME, LET US BUILD US A CITY, AND A TOWER (XI, 4). R. Judan said: The tower they built, but they did not build the city. An objection is raised: But it is written,And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower (ib. 5)? Read what follows, he replied: And they left off to build the city (ib. 8), the tower, however, not being mentioned. R. Hiyya b. Abba said: A third of this tower which they built sank [into the earth], a third was burnt, while a third is still standing. And should you think that it [the remaining third] is small--R. Huna said in R. Idi’s name: When one ascends to the top, he sees the palm trees below him like grasshoppers. AND LET US MAKE A NAME (SHEM). The School of R. Ishmael taught: SHEM (A NAME) means nought else but an idol. LEST WE BE SCATTERED ABROAD UPON THE FACE OF THE WHOLE EARTH. R. Simeon b. Halputha [Halafta] quoted: A fool’s mouth is his ruin (Prov. XVIII, 7).[32]

 

When HaShem confused the language, we no longer spoke Hebrew only. The Targum gives us some insight in this matter:

 

Targum Pseudo Jonathan for: B’ resheet (Genesis) 11:1-32 XI. And all the earth was (of) one language, and one speech, and one counsel. In the holy language they spoke, that by which the world had been created at the beginning. And it was while they were journeying from the east that they found a plain in the land of Bavel, and dwelt there.

 

[JERUSALEM. And all the inhabitants of the earth were (of) one language, and of one speech, and one counsel: for they spoke the holy language by which the world was created at the beginning: while their hearts erred afterwards from the Word of Him who spoke, and the world was, at the beginning; and they found a plain in the land of Pontos and dwelt there.]

 

Rashi tells us that the one language was  Hebrew: One language - [That language was] the holy language [Hebrew].

 

Now we not only had Hebrew, but now we had Spanish, Greek, Russian, Swahili, English, and a whole host of other languages.

 

Targum Pseudo Jonathan for: Bereshit (Genesis) 11:1-32 And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and the language of all of them one: and this they have thought to do: and now they will not be restrained from doing whatever they imagine. And the Lord said to the seventy angels which stand before Him, Come, we will descend and will there commingle their language, that a man shall not understand the speech of his neighbor. And the Word of the Lord was revealed against the city, and with Him seventy angels, having reference to seventy nations, each having its own language, and thence the writing of its own hand: and He dispersed them from thence upon the face of all the earth into seventy languages. And one knew not what his neighbor would say: but one slew the other; and they ceased from building the city. Therefore He called the name of it Babel, because there did the Lord commingle the speech of all the inhabitants of the earth, and from thence did the Lord disperse them upon the faces of all the earth.

 

Targum Onkelos on Bereshit (Genesis) 11:1-4 And all the earth was of one language and one speech. And it was in their migrations at the beginning, that they found a plain in the land of Babel, and dwelt there. And they said, a man to his companion, Come, let us cast bricks and bake them in the fire. And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. And they said, Come, let us build a city, and a tower, the bead of it coming to the pinnacle of the heavens. And we will make to us a name, lest we be dispersed upon the face of all the earth. And the Lord was revealed to punish the work of the city and the tower which the sons of men had builded. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one and the language one with all of them: and this is what they begin to do. And now nothing will be restrained from them of what they imagine to do. Come, We will be manifest, and will confuse their language there, that a man shall not bear the language of his companion. And the Lord dispersed them from thence upon the face of all the earth, and they were restrained from building the city. Therefore the name of it is called Confusion, because the Lord there confused the tongue of all the earth, and from thence the Lord dispersed them upon the face of all the earth.

 

We still had Hebrew, however. Avraham and those of his family (Shem, Eber, Noach, etc.) continued to speak Hebrew.[33]

 

Avodah Zarah 19a R. Simeon b. Pazi expounded [that verse as follows]: ‘Happy is the man that hath not walked’ — i.e., to theatres and circuses of idolaters ‘nor stood in the way of sinners’ — that is he who does not attend contests of wild beasts; ‘nor sat in the seat of the scornful’ — that is he who does not participate in [evil] plannings. And lest one say, ‘Since I do not go to theatres or circuses nor attend contests of wild animals, I will go and indulge in sleep.’ Scripture therefore continues, ‘And in His Law doth He meditate day and night.’ Said R. Samuel b. Nahmani in the name of R. Jonathan: Happy is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the wicked — that is our father Abraham who did not follow the counsel of the men of the Generation of the Division[34] who were wicked, as it is said, Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, with its top in heaven,’ nor stood in the way of sinners — for he did not take up the stand of the Sodomites, who were sinful, as it is said, Now the men of Sodom were wicked and sinful against the Lord exceedingly; nor sat in the seat of the scornful — for he did not sit in the company of the Philistines, because they were scoffers; as it is said, And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said: Call for Samson that he may make us sport.[35]                                    

 

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, in his commentary on the Torah, points out that the word ba-lahl - בלל, normally translated as “confused”, really means “to mix two elements together as one through the introduction of a third element”, such as in the mixing of dry particles of flour together through the introduction of water or oil, thereby making the flour particles into one dough. In other words, what is being implied in the word ba-lahl in the verse is that all HaShem did was to introduce something new into the formation of their speech, and this new element must by itself have brought about that people no longer understood each other. What then was this new element that was the ultimate cause of the breakdown of the world’s universal language with the resultant formation of all the other languages?

 

It seems to be indicated in the words of our Prophets that the evolution of many different languages after the dispersion was detrimental to the ultimate perfection and unity that mankind strives for, and that only when the Messiah comes, and all peoples of the earth will once again speak in the Holy Tongue, will we achieve that perfection and unity. The prophet Zephania speaks of the future Messianic Era when he writes,

 

Zephania 3:9 For then I will change the nations [to speak] a pure language, so that they all will proclaim the Name of HaShem, to worship Him with a united resolve.

 

What is so special about language, and the Hebrew language in particular, that the dispersion and downfall of mankind, as well as his ultimate perfection, all depends on it?

 

There is a major, qualitative difference between (Biblical) Hebrew (Loshon Hakodesh) and all the other languages out there. According to tradition, all the other languages are the product of human beings, while Hebrew was made up by HaShem Himself. In fact, we are taught that Hebrew pre-existed the world itself! And the Sages tell us that when HaShem created the world, He created it by means of Loshon Hakodesh [the Holy Tongue]. Evidence is cited from the Hebrew words ish (man) and isha (woman). The Torah informs us that woman was so named:

 

 Bereshit (Genesis 2:3) because she was taken from man.

 

A reasoning which would only make sense if man and woman were created by means of Loshon Hakodesh in which ish and isha are nearly identical.

 

But the difference between Hebrew and all other languages is much, much deeper. As Rabbi Akiva Tatz explains in his book Worldmask, in the Hebrew language with which the Torah was written, words express essence, and close study of the words is rewarded by an understanding of the nature of the ideas that those words describe. In other languages of the secular world, words are also revealing: the language of the culture reveals its heart. How a particular culture express ideas through language gives insight into the values of that culture. In Torah, words express essence because words are in fact the basis for the existence of those things which they describe. HaShem created objects in this world by saying the words for those objects. When He said, “Let there be ohr (light)” - light automatically came into being. The words are the medium of Creation, and a correct grasp of the words is a correct grasp of the essence of the objects those words represent.

 

Rabbi Hirsch explains that the sin of the builders of the Tower of Babel was that they wanted to unify themselves and achieve a so-called “perfect society” without HaShem’s being in the picture. They wanted to “make a name for themselves”, as the Torah says, and not to submit to HaShem’s will and plan. Whereas HaShem had given human beings the ability to unite in their understanding of the world and its purpose - as reflected in their common, HaShem-given Hebrew language - which would in turn enable them to express HaShem’s will in this world and to bring it to perfection, the inhabitants of the world instead united against HaShem. They felt that as a united entity, nothing could stop them from their desired goals, and that this could be accomplished without HaShem’s help. And when human beings bands together to “perfect” humanity without HaShem in the picture - nothing can be more dangerous than that.

 

So HaShem set out to destroy the unity of the world’s inhabitants. And He did so by injecting (ba’lahl - בלל) subjectivity into their minds and ideas, which, of course, was reflected in their language. This automatically caused them not to understand each other. No longer would they all speak Hebrew, thus understanding the objective essence of all things in creation. Now, each person would name things and speak a language that suited his or her human, subjective, and distorted understanding of all that exists.

 

Of course, as soon as all the nations stopped speaking Hebrew, they lost the chance to be HaShem’s “chosen people” who would bring perfection to mankind by expressing HaShem’s will in this world. And it was left to one man and his descendants - Avraham and the Jewish people - to inherit the sole ownership of the Holy Tongue, thereby understanding the true essence of all that HaShem created, and expressing that Divine Will in this world, leading all of mankind to its ultimate perfection.

 

Those who spoke Hebrew were not excluded from this confusion. Part of this confusion was the diversity of words that were not always known by everyone. Thus, even those who spoke the same language did not all have the same vocabulary. This problem persists into our day.

 

In addition to having the languages become confused, HaShem also confused their speech. This confusion resulted in the great communication difficulties that we al experience today. One has to work very hard to communicate one’s thoughts. Somehow when we package our thoughts into words, the words no longer re-create our thoughts when they heard by the listener. This confusion affected even Hebrew.

 

Tikkun

 

Bavel became a byword for confusion. Remarkably, Bavel also became the place associate with the Mesorah.

 

Masorah (Hebrew מסורה) refers either to the transmission of Jewish tradition, or to the tradition itself. In a broad sense the term can refer to the entire chain of Jewish tradition (oral law).

 

Out of Bavel we received the Talmud Bavli, the Babylonian Talmud. This oral law formed the basis for our understanding of the Torah and the details of the Torah’s commands.

 

The Talmud is a collection of broken pieces. When Adam HaRishon sinned he collapsed the world. We have only the broken pieces to work with. The task of our Talmud study is to reconstruct the world from those broken pieces.

 

In Bavel the world was collapsed again. In the process, language itself was broken. How appropriate it is that in the very place where the world was collapsed, in that very place cames the Talmud which teaches us how to recontruct the broken pieces.

 

The shift of this power to Bavel – based on the Babylonian Geonim’s argument that there were no sages in eretz Israel who were of comparable weight to those in Bavel – was the “final hammer blow” which marked the definitive shift of power to Bavel, and the ramifications of this were enormous.   The reason that we follow the Bavli over the Yerushalmi has a great deal to do with this, where, in the post-Talmudic period, was the de facto seat of religious and halakhic authority. Once the majority of the Jews lived in Bavel, and once the greatest sages were to be found in Bavel, and once even the formal signs of authority, such as the right to set the calendar, were held by the Babylonian Geonim, then it followed naturally that all areas of halakha would be determined by recourse to the Talmud of Bavel, the Talmud that the Geonim of Bavel treated as the ultimate authority. There did remain, of course, regions where elements of eretz Israel halakhic practice still survived, but the Babylonian Talmud, and the practices of Babylonian Jewry, now reigned supreme. Thus in the very place where the authority of HaShem was contested, in that very place His authority, through the Sages, was re-instituted. The correction of the problem came from the very place where the problem began.

 

There is a deep principle for following the dictates of Chazal, as found in the Talmud, with regard to educational philosophy. Talmud Torah is a mitzva. It is not the Jewish countepart of Greek philosophy, or of contemporary advanced education. A mitzva is a way in which HaShem ordained that the creation receives its tikkun, its rectification. The mitzvot were given by the Creator Who knows what His Creation needs. He is aware of the nature of His people to whom He has addressed these mitzvot and the nature of the circumstances in which they live. He chooses to have the correction come from the place where it was originally broken in order to remind us of where we have come, and where we must go. There is a deep principle that teshuva, repentance, can only be ascertained when the sinner is exposed to the same circumstance that caused him to first sin, and it that place he does not repeat the sin. This is true teshuva, tru repentance.

 

If one were to look carefully they would find that things of great value, as they relate to Mashiach, those things always come from a place that appears to be filled with impurity. I wrote abote this extensively in a study titled: FLOWER.

 

In my study on the oral law I looked extensively at the mitzvot, the commands, that require an oral law in order to obey the mitzvot. Rather than repeating myself, I shall give a couple of ideas for thought.

 

The Torah commands that we abstain from work on Shabbat.[36] In the written Torah, however, there is no description of what constitutes work.

 

When we read the Torah we notice that the Hebrew has no vowel points. Without an oral law we have no way of knowing the precise meaning of the Hebrew words we read in the Torah.

 

With these two examples we can see that an oral law is required if we are to understand the Torah. In other words, out of Bavel, the place of language confusion, came the ability to eliminate the confusion of the language! Wow!

 

At the end of the age HaShem will rise up and restore the Holy tongueHebrew.

 

Zephaniah 3:8-9 Therefore wait ye upon me, saith HaShem, until the day that I rise up to the prey: for my determination is to gather the nations, that I may assemble the kingdoms, to pour upon them mine indignation, even all my fierce anger: for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy. 9 For then will I turn to the peoples a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of HaShem, to serve Him with one consent.

 

Thus we will return to our language which was given to Adam:

 

Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 1:9 The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

 

So, my advice is to get a jump on the end times and begin learning Hebrew if you do not already speak this holy language, this tongue of angels.

 

Exile

 

The very first exile began in Bavel.

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 11:6-9 And HaShem said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. 7  Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. 8  So HaShem scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. 9  Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because HaShem did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did HaShem scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

 

From the time that Noach and his family left the ark, until the dispersion at Bavel, there had never been an exile for the whole world. We saw Cain get exiled as an individual, but at Bavel we saw an exile that affected everybody.

 

A Deeper Look

 

The Generation of the Dispersion, after the flood, sought to gain physical beneficence from on High, though they were undeserving. They wished to receive sustenance from the name  יהוה - Havayah; however, they did not want to submit themselves and nullify their egos to the Divine will and thus deserved no better than sustenance received from the back of Elohim. They did not wish to follow the rules as they exist in the world of Tikkun. They desired to reach beyond the world of Tikkun to the world of Akudim whence they could derive sublime sustenance without curbing their egos and desires and submitting to the rules of Tikkun, the world of structure.

This they would achieve through unity, the secret of Akudim.[37]

 

Hence the verses read as follows:

 

“Let us make for us a name…”[38] i.e., let us draw from name of Havayah.

 

“…lest we become dispersed”[39] i.e., lest we receive from the lower level, the back of Elohim.

They wished to build a tower whose peak would reach the heavens as a sign of unity between them. They were shepherds; this one went this way and his fellow in the other direction. The tower would be a place that they could all see and come to regroup and reunite, as explained by Ibn Ezra.

 

HaShem therefore could not allow it since through unity they indeed would be able to elicit the lofty light. Then, HaShem forbid, they would channel the waters that flow from the House of HaShem to the “house of the seat.”[40]

 

This is similar to when HaShem did not want Adam to eat of the Tree of Life and live forever after he had eaten of the Tree of Knowledge. Because he had internalized knowledge of evil, he would be eternalizing it by eating of the Tree of Life (Tzemach Tzedek’s gloss [see our essay on Bereishit]). He therefore mixed up their languages and disrupted their unity, since disunity among the wicked is good for them and good for the world, while unity among the righteous is good for them and good for the world.

 

APPENDIX A

 

The Book of Jasher

Chapter Seven

 

1.               And these are the names of the sons of Noah: Japheth, Ham and Shem; and children were born to them after the flood, for they had taken wives before the flood.

2.               These are the sons of Japheth; Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras, seven sons.

3.               And the sons of Gomer were Askinaz, Rephath and Tegarmah.

4.               And the sons of Magog were Elichanaf and Lubal.

5.               And the children of Madai were Achon, Zeelo, Chazoni and Lot.

6.               And the sons of Javan were Elisha, Tarshish, Chittim and Dudonim.

7.               And the sons of Tubal were Ariphi, Kesed and Taari.

8.               And the sons of Meshech were Dedon, Zaron and Shebashni.

9.               And the sons of Tiras were Benib, Gera, Lupirion and Gilak; these are the sons of Japheth according to their families, and their numbers in those days were about four hundred and sixty men.

10.            And these are the sons of Ham; Cush, Mitzraim, Phut and Canaan, four sons; and the sons of Cush were Seba, Havilah, Sabta, Raama and Satecha, and the sons of Raama were Sheba and Dedan.

11.            And the sons of Mitzraim were Lud, Anom and Pathros, Chasloth and Chaphtor.

12.            And the sons of Phut were Gebul, Hadan, Benah and Adan.

13.            And the sons of Canaan were Zidon, Heth, Amori, Gergashi, Hivi, Arkee, Seni, Arodi, Zimodi and Chamothi.

14.            These are the sons of Ham, according to their families, and their numbers in those days were about seven hundred and thirty men.

15.            And these are the sons of Shem; Elam, Ashur, Arpachshad, Lud and Aram, five sons; and the sons of Elam were Shushan, Machul and Harmon.

16.            And the sons of Ashar were Mirus and Mokil, and the sons of Arpachshad were Shelach, Anar and Ashcol.

17.            And the sons of Lud were Pethor and Bizayon, and the sons of Aram were Uz, Chul, Gather and Mash.

18.            These are the sons of Shem, according to their families; and their numbers in those days were about three hundred men.

19.            These are the generations of Shem; Shem begat Arpachshad and Arpachshad begat Shelach, and Shelach begat Eber and to Eber were born two children, the name of one was Peleg, for in his days the sons of men were divided, and in the latter days, the earth was divided.

20.            And the name of the second was Yoktan, meaning that in his day the lives of the sons of men were diminished and lessened.

21.            These are the sons of Yoktan; Almodad, Shelaf, Chazarmoveth, Yerach, Hadurom, Ozel, Diklah, Obal, Abimael, Sheba, Ophir, Havilah and Jobab; all these are the sons of Yoktan.

22.            And Peleg his brother begat Yen, and Yen begat Serug, and Serug begat Nahor and Nahor begat Terah, and Terah was thirty-eight years old, and he begat Haran and Nahor.

23.            And Cush the son of Ham, the son of Noah, took a wife in those days in his old age, and she bare a son, and they called his name Nimrod,[41] saying, At that time the sons of men again began to rebel and transgress against God, and the child grew up, and his father loved him exceedingly, for he was the son of his old age.

24.            And the garments of skin which God made for Adam and his wife, when they went out of the garden, were given to Cush.

25.            For after the death of Adam and his wife, the garments were given to Enoch, the son of Jared, and when Enoch was taken up to God, he gave them to Methuselah, his son.

26.            And at the death of Methuselah, Noah took them and brought them to the ark, and they were with him until he went out of the ark.

27.            And in their going out, Ham stole those garments from Noah his father, and he took them and hid them from his brothers.

28.            And when Ham begat his first born Cush, he gave him the garments in secret, and they were with Cush many days.

29.            And Cush also concealed them from his sons and brothers, and when Cush had begotten Nimrod, he gave him those garments through his love for him, and Nimrod grew up, and when he was twenty years old he put on those garments.

30.            And Nimrod became strong when he put on the garments, and God gave him might and strength, and he was a mighty hunter in the earth, yea, he was a mighty hunter in the field, and he hunted the animals and he built altars, and he offered upon them the animals before the Lord.

31.            And Nimrod strengthened himself, and he rose up from amongst his brethren, and he fought the battles of his brethren against all their enemies round about.

32.            And the Lord delivered all the enemies of his brethren in his hands, and God prospered him from time to time in his battles, and he reigned upon earth.

33.            Therefore it became current in those days, when a man ushered forth those that he had trained up for battle, he would say to them, Like God did to Nimrod, who was a mighty hunter in the earth, and who succeeded in the battles that prevailed against his brethren, that he delivered them from the hands of their enemies, so may God strengthen us and deliver us this day.

34.            And when Nimrod was forty years old, at that time there was a war between his brethren and the children of Japheth, so that they were in the power of their enemies.

35.            And Nimrod went forth at that time, and he assembled all the sons of Cush and their families, about four hundred and sixty men, and he hired also from some of his friends and acquaintances about eighty men, and be gave them their hire, and he went with them to battle, and when he was on the road, Nimrod strengthened the hearts of the people that went with him.

36.            And he said to them, Do not fear, neither be alarmed, for all our enemies will be delivered into our hands, and you may do with them as you please.

37.            And all the men that went were about five hundred, and they fought against their enemies, and they destroyed them, and subdued them, and Nimrod placed standing officers over them in their respective places.

38.            And he took some of their children as security, and they were all servants to Nimrod and to his brethren, and Nimrod and all the people that were with him turned homeward.

39.            And when Nimrod had joyfully returned from battle, after having conquered his enemies, all his brethren, together with those who knew him before, assembled to make him king over them, and they placed the regal crown upon his head.

40.            And he set over his subjects and people, princes, judges, and rulers, as is the custom amongst kings.

41.            And he placed Terah the son of Nahor the prince of his host, and he dignified him and elevated him above all his princes.

42.            And whilst he was reigning according to his heart’s desire, after having conquered all his enemies around, he advised with his counselors to build a city for his palace, and they did so.

43.            And they found a large valley opposite to the east, and they built him a large and extensive city, and Nimrod called the name of the city that he built Shinar, for the Lord had vehemently shaken his enemies and destroyed them.

44.            And Nimrod dwelt in Shinar, and he reigned securely, and he fought with his enemies and he subdued them, and he prospered in all his battles, and his kingdom became very great.

45.            And all nations and tongues heard of his fame, and they gathered themselves to him, and they bowed down to the earth, and they brought him offerings, and he became their lord and king, and they all dwelt with him in the city at Shinar, and Nimrod reigned in the earth over all the sons of Noah, and they were all under his power and counsel.

46.            And all the earth was of one tongue and words of union, but Nimrod did not go in the ways of the Lord, and he was more wicked than all the men that were before him, from the days of the flood until those days.

47.            And he made gods of wood and stone, and he bowed down to them, and he rebelled against the Lord, and taught all his subjects and the people of the earth his wicked ways; and Mardon his son was more wicked than his father.

48.            And every one that heard of the acts of Mardon the son of Nimrod would say, concerning him, From the wicked goeth forth wickedness; therefore it became a proverb in the whole earth, saying, From the wicked goeth forth wickedness, and it was current in the words of men from that time to this.

49.            And Terah the son of Nahor, prince of Nimrod’s host, was in those days very great in the sight of the king and his subjects, and the king and princes loved him, and they elevated him very high.

50.            And Terah took a wife and her name was Amthelo the daughter of Cornebo; and the wife of Terah conceived and bare him a son in those days.

51.            Terah was seventy years old when he begat him, and Terah called the name of his son that was born to him Abram, because the king had raised him in those days, and dignified him above all his princes that were with him.

 

 

 

 

 


 


There are several similarities between what when on at Migdal Bavel (Babylon) and what went on in Babylon with Esther:

 

Migdal Bavel

Esther

Gen. 10:9-10, Eiruvim 53a, Pesachim 94b

Nimrod ruled the world.

Est. 1:1 Achashverush ruled the world

Pesachim 118a Nimrod tried to destroy Avraham (in the furnace) and thereby all the Jews.

Est. 3:13 Achashverush tried to destroy all of the Jews.

Gen. 11:4  The world wanted to make a name for themselves.

Est. 1:1-4 Achashverush made a name for himself.

Gen. 11:4 The world wanted to build a tower for themselves.

Est. 1:2 Achashverush built a palace for himself.

Avodah Zarah 19a, Gen. 12:1 Out of Bavel came Avraham headed for the promised land.

Ezra 1ff Out of Babylon came Zerubbabel and thousands of Jews headed for the promised land.

Gen. 11:5  HaShem had to descend to see what was going on.

Book of Est.  HaShem hid His face from His people.

Gen. 11:4 Folks in Shinar wanted to be together (bricks)

Est. 1:5 Folks in Babylon was to blend in.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

* * *

 

This study was written by

Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David

(Greg Killian).

Comments may be submitted to:

 

Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian

4544 Highline Drive SE

Olympia, WA 98501

 

Internet address: gkilli@aol.com

Web page: http://www.betemunah.org/

 

(360) 918-2905

 

Return to The WATCHMAN home page

Send comments to Greg Killian at his email address: gkilli@aol.com

 



[1] Bavel and Borsif  (The word Borsif means a pit emptied of its water - a sign of forgetting Torah.) are (both close to the tower, therefore they are) bad omens for Torah. (Tosfot Shabbat 36b DH Nafka says that there is no city Bavel. The name is used only for the entire region. The Rashash says that Gitin (Sof 65a) connotes otherwise.

[2] The name “Bavel” can be split to show Bava meaning Gate and El means God.

[3] Dor Haflagah – דור הפלגה: Is a Hebrew phrase that means “the generation of the dispersion”.

[4] What was there plan here? The Netziv eplains that these people had heard what happened in the great flood and knew that it was because of the corrupt actions of the people of the world. They then thought of a ‘solution:’ The troubles of the world were caused by people doing what they want. The problem, in their eyes, was individuality - each person acting in their own different way. And so they planned to build a huge tower from which they could look down at everyone and make sure that everyone was behaving in exactly the same way. Their idea was to destroy individuality, because that’s what they felt the problem was. And HaShem, midda kenegged midda, split them up across the world and made them into different individuals with their different languages. The idea of Bavel as a totalitarian state, based on the stories of Nimrod and Avraham, is also quoted by the Abrabanel in the name of the Ran.

[5] See Ramban, Bereshit 1:28; Bacheya 11:4; Or HaChayim 11:1, et al.

[6] Bereshit 1:28

[7] Yeshayahu 45:18. See also Likkutei Sichos, Vol. V, p. 159, fn. 63.

[8] Bereshit  8:16 and 9:1.

[9] Bereshit (Genesis) 12:8

[10] Bereshit (Genesis) 17:5

[11] Contest of wild beasts with beasts or with men; hunt of animals.

[12] The builders of the Tower of Babel. Abraham was a younger contemporary of Peleg in whose days was the earth divided. (Genesis 10:25.)

[13] Bereshit (Genesis) 11:4

[14] Bereshit (Genesis) 13:13

[15] Shofet (Judges) 16:25.

[16] Bereshit (Genesis) 11:9

[17] Bereshit (Genesis) 11:4

[18] Shemot (Exodus) 23:13

[19] Identified by Obermeyer. op. cit. 314, as the Borsippa Tower, near Babylon. V. next note

[20] A city frequently identified with Babel. Neubauer, op. cit., pp. 327, 346, observes that Borsif was not far from Borsippon. A sect of Chaldean astrologers had their locale there, for which reason the Talmud says that the place is unfavourable for study.

[21] Because one’s learning is soon forgotten there.

[22] I.e., a pit emptied of its waters — a place where all knowledge is forgotten.

[23] see Rashi on 10:25

[24] Andrew Lawrence the banker who first conceived of the “Skyscraper Index”, said, “skyscrapers seem to mark a very large economic boom that typically ends in large recession,” as he told the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat in a recent interview. “They tend to mark the top of the cycle.”

 

[25] Controversially in fact – Willis has more storeys, but the Petronas towers have big spiky spires that reach higher. Spires count towards the record, Willis’ antennae don’t.

[26] Hebrew - רְשׁוּת

[27] See Torah Or, p. 77c

[28] The Torah (“Teaching”, also known as the Five Books of Moses), Nevi’im (“Prophets”) and Ketuvim (“Writings”)—hence TaNaKh.

[29] Yeshayahu (Isaiah) chapters nine and sixty-five.

[30] Yehezechal (Ezekiel) 4.

[31] Chazal is an acronym for the HebrewChachameinu Zichronam Livracha”, (חכמינו זכרונם לברכה), literally “our sages of blessed memory”.

[32] By saying this they unconsciously prophesied their fate and were themselves responsible for it.

[33] Avraham and his family lived in Shinar and observed the building of the tower at Bavel. Since they did not participate their language was not as confused as those who did take part.

[34] The builders of the Tower of Babel. Abraham was a younger contemporary of Peleg in whose days was the earth divided. (Gen. X, 25.)

[35] Judges XVI, 25.

[36] Shabbat is a transliteration of the Hebrew word שבת. The normal English translation of שבת is Sabbath.

[37] Although Rabbi Schneur Zalman does not state it clearly, it seems that what is meant is as follows:

Elsewhere Rabbi Schneur Zalman uses the example of a seed, which contains within it the potential for the entire tree—branches, leaves, fruits, including the pit and peel of the fruit. Every aspect of the tree is contained within the seed in an undefined form that will eventually take on a concrete existence.

While in that indistinct form, the part of the seed that ultimately becomes the branch can theoretically become the fruit, while the part that becomes the fruit can become the branch. On that level all is interchangeable. By contrast, once the branch becomes a branch and the fruit becomes a fruit, there’s no turning back (see our essay on dreams (Miketz) and on the Copper Serpent (end of Mattot).)

Similarly, in the early, spiritual stages of creation [Akudim and Nekudim], when all exists in potential form, everything is interchangeable. But the world of Tikkun, structure, is compared to the fully matured tree. Here a branch is a branch and a fruit is a fruit. You cannot build a house from fruits nor eat branches.

The same is true in the realm of Torah. In the pre-Tikkun worlds, the laws of Torah are not set (see essay on Vayishlach). In Tikkun, the world of structure and order, the tree is full grown—the tefillin must be a certain shape and size; Shabbat begins at a very specific moment etc.

The Generation of the Dispersion sought to bypass the rules of Tikkun—to live without the restraints it demands. They wished, through unity, to access the pre-Tikkun reality.

[38] Bereshit (Genesis) 11:4

[39] Bereshit (Genesis) 11:4

[40] A euphemism for lavatory.

[41] Nimrod comes from the root מרד - mered - rebellion.