On the Ruins of the flood
“And the whole earth was one language and singular/uniform terms. When they traveled from the east they found a valley in the land of Shinar and they settled there”(11:1-2). Why is it necessary to stress that there was only one language? First of all, that is to be assumed, because they were all living together and there was no reason for other languages to arise. Even if other languages would have emerged by then, what difference would that make, so long as there was a common language with which to understand each other? What is the additional stress that they had singular/uniform terms for everything? What is that adding above and beyond what was already stated that there was only one language? Chazal tell us that this land of Shinar is where all the remains of the dead of the flood settled. What is the significance of that?
Skyscraper in a Valley?!?
“And they said to one another ‘let us make bricks…’ and the bricks served as stone and the mortar as clay. And they said let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its head in the sky and we will make a name for ourselves lest we be scattered over the earth”(11:3-4). What does the fact that they developed the technology of creating bricks, mortar, and brick laying have to do with the narrative of how they were building a tower to rebel against Hashem? What did they mean “make a name for ourselves”? How would having that “name” in addition to the tower stop them from “scattering across the globe”? If the tower was supposed to reach heaven, why did they build it in a valley? They should’ve built it on a mountain top!
What is Language?
The gift of human language is far above and beyond “expression”. Animals express themselves adequately without language. Language is a conceptual construct. First letters form words, like grains of sand form bricks. Words are basic ideas, like ‘bricks’, then words are strung together to form sentences, like bricks are joined together to make a wall. Then sentences are strung together to make entire paragraphs and huge complex ideas, like a whole building in full detail. Most of mankind doesn’t understand the complexity, beauty, and full power of what human speech is: constructs of unified ideas. This generation realized the full power of human speech. “One language” is that they can understand each other, generally speaking (no pun intended). “Singular/uniform terms” is that they saw everything the same way down to the nitty-gritty isolated words. They were able to understand each other down to the very particular ideas.
They reached a place where all the remains of the generation of the flood settled together. They came to the realization that they can correct what the generation of the flood had done wrong, and never have to fear another flood coming again. The generation of the flood did not respect boundaries. Aside from the promiscuity, the final decree that sealed their fate was theft. Theft is to violate someone else’s space, which is based on the supposition everyone has his own space. If they could come to a meeting of the minds, see everything the same way, they can come to understandings, and not just about ideas. They could be in one mind of how to live with each other and how to pool resources. There would be no such thing as invading anyone’s “individual private space” because everyone sees everything the same way and they have a unified social contract of how everything is to be used! They would have a perpetual reminder to ‘stick with the program’ because they will be living on top of the graves of a society where everyone had their own space and they invaded by each other. They would not make the same mistakes. Just like the remains of the dead of the flood converged to one point they would converge to one perfectly unified society of being in one mind with no dissenting opinions and come to agreements of how everything is to be used. There would be no such thing as “invading someone else’s space” – as everything is perfectly unified.
Then they came to a higher realization: The power of unity is not just in language and the mind – it is a cosmic force that permeates all of reality! They discovered how physical entities unite to become structures more powerful than the sum of the parts. If huge amounts of sand are thrown upon a person grain by grain it won’t do him any harm. However, if you combine a modest amount of sand into a solid brick and throw it, it would hurt greatly. Then there’s putting the bricks together to make a wall or build a house. They thought that if they could harness that force they would be indestructible.
How Does it Work?
What is unity? What holds things together? Why are certain things adhesive and others are not?
Reality is made up of conflicting forces like fire and water what holds it all together? What keeps the planets and stars together in constellations as opposed to them flying off each in its own direction? Science is perplexed about this and talks about a theory that there is “dark matter” that is imperceivably that is the “glue” holding everything together. Chazal knew the secret and it is the attribute called “Shem Shamayim”- Name/Sake of Heaven that is the unifying force in creation. “Any ingathering/convergence that is for “Shem Shamayim” – Sake/Name of Heaven will endure and if not it will not endure” (Avos 4:14). Any unity in the world comes from the “Name of Hashem” which is a synonym for “Malchus” – kingdom which displays the power of unity. This is what holds the world together in accordance with Hashem’s Will and that’s why certain things stick together and certain things don’t.
Amounts & Measures
With this idea the Beis Yaakov from Izbitza explains a well-known but difficult to understand idea: The concept and Halacha that whenever something requires minimal mass or dimensions, for instance like the minimal length of a Lulav, if that Lulav was taken from a ‘asherah’– a tree of idol worship it may not be used. Since it must be destroyed it lacks the required mass/dimensions (כיתותי מיכתת שיעוריה ) even though it has not yet been burnt and is visible for all to see. This is not to say that say it’s as if it’s nonexistent – because one may use the dust from an “Ir hanidachas”- a city of idol worship – which also must be destroyed – to cover the blood a slaughtered bird (the mitzvah of ‘Kisui hadam’) because that mitzva does not require a minimal mass or dimensions. Something that must be burnt lacks in mass and dimensions – even though it exists. With what we explained above there is no mystery. Things cannot bind together to any amount of (for example) three or four “Tefachim” if it came from idol worship because the power that unifies things to amount to any integrated amount or dimensions is Divine. Something that lacks that “Divinity” (-“Shem Shamayim”) to the point that it must be destroyed does not have unity in its particles to make it add up to any amount.
The generation of the Tower of Babel discovered the power of unity and initially they thought it was in the power of speech and the mind, which come from the Divine soul. Then they realized that the unifying power holds everything together and if they could harness that power they and their world would be indestructible, and they won’t need to serve Hashem to endure. To siphon the power of unity from “Hashem‘s Name” they came up with a cunning scheme…
In Hebrew “Name” and “Sake/cause” are the same word: “Shem” – (literally) Name. “L’Shem” means “for the sake of” to do something “Lishma” – literally for its own name- means “for its own sake”. This is because “Hashem’s Name” is supposed to be our unifying cause. Just like it is the unifying force in reality it should also be the unifying idea that holds society together. Everyone should be working for the sake of serving Hashem i.e. the “Name of Hashem” is a focal point to focus at an even in the individual of the unifying factor in all he does. As the mishna says: “….all your deeds should be “L’Shem Shamayim” for the sake of the Name of Heaven”
The tower was meant to be a unifying cause. “Make for ourselves a name” meant “make for ourselves a cause for all of society to get excited about and put their spirit into”. Uniting around that cause would be “the name” – but not the “Name of Heaven” – they wanted to take the “Name” away from the “Name of Heaven”. By putting all their soul united behind a cause, they thought they could tap into the power of unity and siphon it from “Hashem’s Name” to themselves and therefore “they will never be scattered across the globe”. This is the secret behind the pshat that “Make for ourselves a Shem” means idolatry… the Tower was to replace “Shem Shamayim”
The failed Coup
With this we could understand why this tower was built in the valley. It was supposed to be an antenna and a conductor – it’s head in heaven but to conduct the power of unity from heaven down to the lowest point on earth. That’s the secret behind the pshat that the tower was to be the pillar that would hold up the sky and earth so they should not break apart with a flood ever again. In that way they were “making war with Hashem” – to capture from Him the power of His Divine Name so that they should have the benefit of the “Name” as a unifying cause but without serving Hashem – it was a revolution, taking the “Malchus” – Kingdom – which is the “Name”- for themselves and thus overthrowing Hashem as ‘King’.
Tower vs Temple
This tower was an evil twin of our Beis HaMikdash, the place that provides centrality to our people as it is in the center of Israel and all the Jewish people come to it in unison three times a year. By no coincidence Dovid HaMelech wanted to build it, Shlomo HaMelech did build it, and the final eternal Beis HaMikdash (according to the Rambam) will be built by our King Melech HaMashiach. Just like a king provides centrality to a nation, the Beis HaMikdash is point center, parallel to what Shabbos is in time. That place is referred to over and over in Chumash as “the place where Hashem will choose to have His Name dwell there”. The “Kodesh Hakodashim” contains the “Even Shesiya” – the central foundation stone that all reality branched out from. This is the secret that “the Beis HaMikdash on earth is aligned with the Beis HaMikdash in heaven”- because they’re all in the same place – point center of reality. That’s the secret behind why (according to the Rambam that the obligation to daven in general is d’Oraisah) the one Biblical specification of how to Daven is to face towards the Beis HaMikdash wherever you are in the world – because it is the focal point of reality. It is the manifestation of the “Divine Name”. The Beis HaMikdash is built on a mountain because we are turning towards Him to ascend up to serve and annul ourselves to Him as opposed to trying to siphon His power down for ourselves.
First Beis HaMikdash vs the Second
This explains the fundamental difference between the destruction of the first Beis HaMikdash and the second one. Chazal tell us that the first Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because the Jews were guilty of idolatry, promiscuity, and bloodshed. These sins emptied the Beis HaMikdash of its Divine Power and could no longer hold itself or us together, so it was destroyed, and we were “scattered across the globe”.
That was only for 70 years. The Power of unity was restored in the days of Mordechai and Esther when she gathered all together all the Jews in communal prayer and all the Jews banded together to fight for themselves. Esther HaMalka – the queen restored the attribute of “Malchus”-Kingdom As it says “on the third day Esther adorned herself with Malchus” Chazal say she was adorned with Ruach Hakodesh as she truly became a vehicle for the divine attributes of Kingdom which is the “Name of Heaven” and with that power the second Beis HaMikdash was rebuilt. but
The Second Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of “Sinas Chinam” – baseless hatred amongst us which is an absolute and direct desecration of the whole concept of a Beis HaMikdash that is supposed to be a place of unity. That’s why this dispersal is nearly 30 times longer than the previous one….
Hashem dispersed the nations and mixed up the languages to stop them from ever regrouping by their own devices ever again, because any regrouping would be to just reenact the Tower of Babel. It would be for the purpose of rebelling against Hashem and oppressing the Jewish people. The closest thing we have had since the Tower of Babel was Communist Russia where “everything was for the state” and since it the UN (and all globalization efforts). By no coincidence those entities are severely anti-G-d and anti-the Jewish people and the state of Israel. That’s why the Mishna says: “Being scattered is GOOD for the evil and thus GOOD for the world”. The same Mishna says, “Convergence is GOOD for the Tzadikim (only) and thus GOOD for the world”. Regarding the future the Navi says, “and then I will change all the nations to speak a clear language that they should all call in the Name of Hashem and to serve Him in unison”. May it be speedily in our days.