Urgent message:

Given the most challenging situation in Israel at this time, I urge all to pray for the bereaved families, the hostages, the missing and the many casualties. Please try to perform additional mitzvot, send funds to help the needy and grieving families, and attend the rallies that are being organized in support of Israel.

May the Al-mighty protect the State of Israel, its citizens and bless it with peace!

“Using Technology in the Service of the Al-mighty”
(updated and revised from Noah 5764-2003)

by, Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat Noah, we read the fascinating and edifying story of the Tower of Babel.

The Torah, in Genesis 11, reports, that after the great flood, all people were united and spoke one common language. When the people migrated East, they found a valley in the land of Shin’ar, and settled there. They said one to another (Genesis, 11:4): הָבָה נִבְנֶה לָּנוּ עִיר וּמִגְדָּל, וְרֹאשׁוֹ בַשָּׁמַיִם, וְנַעֲשֶׂה לָּנוּ שֵׁם, “Come, let us build a city and a tower with its top in heaven, and let us make a name for ourselves.”

Scripture relates that the Al-mighty sees the city and tower that the people had built, and (for reasons we will soon learn) is not happy. He decides to confound the peoples’ language and spread the people abroad over the face of the earth. Because of the inability to communicate, all building comes to an abrupt halt. The location of the tower is given the name בָּבֶל–“Bavel” (Babylon), because there G-d confounded, בָּלַל“balal,” the language of the people.

Many commentators maintain that the purpose of the biblical story of the Tower of Babel is to explain the existence of the many different nations and the varied languages. After all, if all humankind is descended from the family of Adam, there should be only a single nation and one unified language.

The rabbis also note that Genesis 11 is preceded in the Torah by Genesis 10, where scripture lists the names of the 70 nations who are descended from Noah and his sons. The commentators dwell on the fact that, with a single exception, the names of the 70 descendants are merely listed, without any additional or added information. However, in Genesis 10:89, where the birth of Nimrod is recorded, scripture notes that Nimrod was “a mighty man” on the earth, and “a mighty hunter” before the L-rd. The Torah then declares, therefore it is said: “like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the L-rd.”

The rabbis seek to connect this unexpected description of Nimrod to the “rebellion” of the generation of the Tower of Babel. In fact, they suggest that Nimrod himself was the leading force behind the rebellion.

The Abarbanel cited by Nehama Leibowitz  in her Studies in Bereshit [Genesis], points out that until the birth of Nimrod, all humans were considered equal. But Nimrod became “mighty,” and began to lord over his contemporaries. Through his wily actions, he trapped people, resorting to subterfuge to gain ascendency over the others. He became a mighty hunter, and battled many wild and ferocious beasts, until all the people stood in awe of Nimrod, and thus became his subjects and followers.

Nimrod built towers and highly-fortified cities which he designed in order to immortalize himself and enhance his rule over the entire country. He abolished the notion of human equality that had existed until that time, and introduced the practice of the strong oppressing the weak. In effect, Nimrod, the first monarch, introduced to the world the notion of tyranny.

What actually was the sin of the builders of the Tower of Babel? The Talmud (Sanhedrin 109a) states, that the generation of the Tower of Babel was divided into three groups: One group desired to build a tower to simply serve as a residence. A second group wanted to use the tower for the worship of idolatry. A third group sought to build a tower in order to do battle with G-d.

According to various traditions, the Tower project was so immense that 600,000 people labored for 43 years to build it. The Midrash describes the tower as being so high, that it took a year to carry bricks from the ground level to the top.

In addition, the story of the Tower of Babel is the story of technology running amok. Apparently, the valley of Shin’ar, contained no rocks or stones. Consequently, the people invented a way of making bricks from clay, glazing them in a fiery kiln, thus creating a super-strong building material that enabled the people to build a tower that would rise to heretofore unimaginable heights. A second technological development, the discovery of mortar, enabled the people to build towers that were more secure than before and even higher. Insightfully, the rabbis of the Midrash note how the sanctity of human life had been reduced because of the people’s worship of technology. The Midrash relates, that during the building process, if a person fell off the tower, his death was ignored. But if a brick fell and was smashed, the people would stop work in order to mourn.

Surely, Judaism does not regard human wisdom, or the skills, resources and power of mortals as something evil. To the contrary, they are all deemed to be valued gifts of G-d, that are to be used in the service of G-d. The sin of the people of the Tower of Babel was not the manufacture of the bricks, but the fact that they regarded the bricks as an end in itself.

This powerful message of the story of the Tower of Babel, resounds mightily in our super-hyped technological age. We must all be certain to utilize our wisdom, our ingenuity and our creativity to advance the service of G-d, so that the “tower” that we build will truly reach up to heaven and last forever.

Such a tower will surely represent an edifice whose purpose is to enhance and increase the glory of G-d.

May you be blessed.