Thursday, November 03, 2005

FOR FRIDAY NIGHT: The Flood and the Towel of Babel (Noach)


Cheshvan 1, 5766 * November 3, 2005


Parshat Noach

The Flood and the Towel of Babel
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What is more important? Our attitude to g-d or our relationship with other people? The Sedra [1] gives us a clue. It describes two famous calamities in the history of the world. One is the Flood which all but destroyed the whole of humanity, and later, the Tower of Babel.

Why did the flood take place? People had become utterly violent and destructive in their relationship with each other. G-d decreed that they should be wiped out. Only Noah and his family were left, so that mankind could begin afresh.

A few generations later there was another calamity: the Tower of Babel. The Torah tells us that at this point in time, the whole world spoke one language. Then a group of people decided to build a city and a Tower with its top reaching the Heavens - so we should not be scattered over the face of the earth [2].

The Sages explain that their aim was to defy G-d's power [3]. They believed that man could be more powerful than the Divine. G-d's response was to confuse their language so that one person could not understand the other. They abandoned building the tower and were scattered.

Insight into these two events is provided by Rashi [4]. What was worse, the sin of the time of the Flood, or the Tower of Babel? Before the Flood, people were in terrible conflict with each other, but they did not attack G-d. They were drowned, while the builders of the Tower of Babel, who sought to defy G-d but were in harmony with each other, were not destroyed at all, simply scattered.

We might think that, from a religious point of view, rebellion against G-d is the worst offence. Rashi makes clear that this is not so. The Flood came because of man's cruelty to other people. By contrast, The Tower of Babel, although an act of rebellion against the Divine, was at the same time an expression of cooperation, camaraderie and friendship. This is also implied in the statement that everyone spoke one language. Due to their unity, says Rashi, they were not destroyed.

A prime value in Jewish teaching is the good of human kindness, unity and peace. To some extent this can even override other religious failings. However, ultimately Love of ones Fellow leads to genuine Love of G-d [5]. The genuine Love of G-d implies also Love of one's Fellow, and vice versa.

Our Sages also teach that peace between people is the highest value, because the purpose of the Torah is to bring peace to the world [6]. Chassidic teaching adds that through unity of the Jewish people we can ultimately achieve unity throughout humanity and in all existence.


1. Genesis 6:9-11:32.
2. Genesis 11:4.
3. Rashi to Genesis 11:1.
4. Rashi to Genesis 11:9. See also the Lubavitcher Rebbes Likkutei Sichot vol.3 pp.754-56.
5. See the Lubavitcher Rebbes From Day to Day 6 Tishrei.
6. Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Purim and Chanukah 4:14. This passage speaks of the Shabbat Candles taking precedence over other Mitzvot, because they bring peace to the home.



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