July 23, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
July 23, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

A Deeper Lesson in the Dor Haflaga – The Perils of Unity

Towards the end of Parshas Noach, we are introduced to the Dor Haflaga, those who build the Tower of Bavel.  As children we are taught to believe these were terrible rebellious people.  However, when one looks carefully at the story, their actions don’t seem all that horrible.

We are told everyone spoke the same language.  They also get along, thinking in a similar fashion.  In fact, their reason for building a tower was not in order to rebel against God, but in order to remain unified, as they state: “Pen Nifotz Al P’nei Kol Haaretz.  If anything, this seems like an example of remarkable unity, especially coming on the heels of the generation of Noach, people whose lives were filled with Chamas, thievery one from the other. What, then, was their crime? And why does God respond with such a swift, powerful response?  A better understanding of two other stories from Parshas Breishis may help us find the answer.

After Kayin murders his brother Hevel, God approaches Kayin to lay out his punishment:  He will wander the Earth for the rest of his life.  Kayin responds with what seems to be a complaint, “Gadol Avoni Minsoh.”  My punishment is too difficult to bear.  And, surprisingly, not only does God accept Kayin’s complaint, but He actually reduces the punishment, promising Kayin that he will be protected as he roams the Earth.  What causes God to change His approach to Kayin?  The Ramban explains that while Kayin seems to complain to Hashem, in reality he was reciting viduy, admitting his wrong to Hashem.   How is this complaint really a form of viduy?  Kayin’s whole life was focused on what he could acquire for himself.  Even his name, Kayin, comes from the word “kinyan”, acquisition.  He is an Oveid Adama, a person who literally worships the ground. As Rabbeinu Bechayei explains, Kayin was entirely focused on this world, and he refused to recognize that God had a place in his life.

That is why when he finally tells Hashem, “My punishment is too severe, I can’t continue without Your help,” asking for God’s protection, this is the ultimate viduy on his part.  God simply wanted Kayin to recognize His role in Kayin’s life.  He wanted Him to see there was more to life than what he could accomplish on his own.  So when Kayin finally turns back to Hashem with a newfound recognition that he needs Him, God is more than happy to provide that protection.

And we find this theme in the story of Adam’s sin as well.  When God lays out the consequences of Adam eating from the Eitz Hadaas, He states that Adam is being punished because he listened to his wife when he ate from Tree of Knowledge.  The Ohr HaChaim Hakdosh explains that what made God more upset than Adam’s transgression was his negligence when it came to God’s command.  Adam doesn’t even ask Chava where the fruit came from.  He neglects to take the necessary precautions to ensure he does not violate the one mitzvah he has been given.  Adam gives so little regard to God’s command, and in turn, so little regard to his relationship with God, that he doesn’t even realize he is sinning.  Adam wasn’t rebelling against God.  He was guilty of a transgression that was far worse:  He refused to even notice Him.

And I believe this explains the sin of the Dor Haflaga as well.  R’ Shimon Schwab writes that there is so much discussion about the unity of the Dor Haflaga because the downfall of this group was their unity, their willingness to work together. The Dor Haflaga used that unity to become so intertwined, so interdependent, that they felt they no longer needed God.  They were such a close-knit group that no matter what difficulty would come about, they believed they had the tools to rectify the problem.   They felt completely self-reliant. And this is exactly Hashem’s response to them is so severe.  Because after all this time, they still don’t get it.  They are still making the same mistakes that led to the downfall of Adam and Kayin.  They refuse to allow God into their lives.

The Yamim Noraim and Sukkos have offered us the ability to refocus, to remind ourselves just how crucial our connection with God is to our personal, familial, and communal lives.  These times remind us just how much we need Him.  As we now settle in to 5774, may we all find the strength to continue to keep our most important relationship in the forefront of our minds.

Rabbi Beni Krohn is the Assistant Rabbi at Congregation Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck, NJ.  He is also a member of the Judaic Studies faculty at Torah Academy of Bergen County.

By Rabbi Beni Krohn

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles