Noach - weekly Torah portion

October 20, 2017

“Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words. It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.’ And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar. They said, ‘Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.’ The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built. The Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

 

The Beatniks of Babylon - Blowin in The Wind ( Bob Dylan)

 

Seemingly this is quite a simple story that attempts to explain to us a fact that we know all too well. In different places around the earth people speak different tongues. Originally, so it is claimed, all people spoke the same language which led them to attempt to build a high tower that would reach the heavens. It was supposed to contain all people in one place so that they would not disperse around the land. But the result was very different, the endeavor to get everyone into the same place, to keep them with “the same language and the same words”, was not well received. It ended with the people being forcefully spread around the land speaking languages that other people did not understand. The only problem with that Babylonian attempt is that it actually failed. It is a face that continuously human beings learned different languages, found ways to overcome language barriers and the obstacles of distance, and reduced gaps. Today the tower of Babylon is spread over the entire globe.

 

The ability to see beyond what exists in the world is mostly unique to mankind. The scripture, in basically one sentences says that all, “‘Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.’ And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar.” It shows the ability to take a soft material such as tar as a building block, so to speak, and burn it so it changes its character from the unstable material it was not a hard and tough material, a stone like material. They even go a step beyond that in their thinking and understand that they need to form the tar into bricks so as to have an effective product. This is a capability of humans that happens when they can freely communicate but it may be a frightening thought for some who are afraid of progress, concerned over change, who prefer to remain in the darkness of the past rather than walk into the light of the future.

 

Ultimately, the idea that one can prevent people from communicating with each other so as to prevent them from greatness is doomed to fail. Sometimes people communicate and what they are doing has good results for the world; in other cases, sometimes the use of the exact same things, may have catastrophic consequence. Take the atomic power that may be used in way too horrific to even mention or think about, or can be used for medical purposes or for providing special sources of energy. The thought that evil can be prevented by not allowing people to talk to each other is, I think, may easily lead to results that are by far worse than ensuring that people do have the means to communicate with each other, maybe speak the same language and find together some kind of mutual understanding.

 

Israel’s government, deciding to freeze the agreement over the Kotel has caused a Babel of our times. An attempt to scatter people to all corners of the world because some members of its coalition do not want us as partners to a debate, partners of equal rights, partners for finding a path to a solution. They try to scatter us throughout the land and we respond in clear and firm voices that this will never happen. We will find a language which they will understand, a tongue which they shall comprehend, and the words that will lead us to a place where minds can meet. Possibly, at the times of the Tower of Babel they were not yet in the know of earth being a globe therefore would not realize that when you scatter people over the earth they will eventually meet up again. We will meet them, again, and again, and again. We shall meet them in the courts of law, in the Knesset, in the government, in the municipalities, we shall meet them wherever they are. And they will meet us. It will take time, it will require a lot of effort, it will consume resources and will demand courage and brains. At the end we may not all be speaking the same language but we shall certainly understand each other and I am confident that we shall be successful.

 

Shabbat Shalom and Hodesh Tov.

Reuven Marko, Netanya, 1 Heshvan 5778, 20 October 2017

 

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