April 14, 2024
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The two episodes in Parashat Noach—the annihilation of the world by the Flood and the destruction of the Tower of Babel—end on a similar theme. A theme that seems to be the reason for the two catastrophes.

In the Tower of Babel episode, at the end of the parsha (11:1–9), the key phrase is “vena’aseh lanu sheim – let us make a name for ourselves.”

The first time this idea appears is actually at the end of Bereishit (6:1–5), in the prelude to the Flood. There, the phrase is anshei hasheim.

The phrase in the second story shines light on the meaning of the first.

These were people engaged in making a name for themselves—self-aggrandization and self-promotion. The expression vena’aseh lanu sheim captures the essence of the Babel generation’s sin—humanity joining forces to “create a name for itself,” for purely egotistical purposes.

In both cases, the Torah talks about giborim, the mighty. In Bereishit, hagiborim asher me’olam anshei hasheim, while in Noach we’re told first of Nimrod who was a gibor and then about the Tower of Babel. The simple meaning of the text, as supported by Chazal, is that Nimrod was the king in charge of the Babel project.

We can pinpoint three errors in humanity setting itself the goal of making a name for itself:

  1. The aim was negative. Rather than increasing Hashem’s Name in the world, they wanted to make a name for themselves, to extol human greatness and ignore Divinity.
  2. Those involved in the Tower of Babel used the great gift God gave to humankind, the unity of humanity, and turned it into a tool to achieve an undesirable goal—making a name for themselves.

They thought anything was permitted to achieve their lofty aim. For the sake of their own personal honor, they were prepared to nullify the honor of other individuals. One must be very careful that the ends do not justify the means. Even if the aim is important, one cannot crush other important things, especially other people, on the way.

  1. They focused only on this aim and rejected every other method, scared of spreading and losing their uniqueness. Even if we are passionately involved in a crucial mission, we should remember there are other aims and other people engaged in other worthy pursuits in the world.

Those involved in building the Tower of Babel forgot God’s command of “be fruitful and multiply…” (Bereishit 1:28). A message that indicates there are many aims in the world, and the more people and the more diverse people there are, the more of God’s aims they can achieve. Anyone who minimizes the multiplicity of humanity’s goals in the world is rebelling against God’s Will.

The Jewish people is comprised of different individuals and groups. Currently, this reality is creating separation. We don’t need to think in the same way to be united, to be loved and loving. The Jewish people rises higher precisely because of its human mosaic.

We can compare it to an army. If all army units merge into one, that army will crumble. A strong, united army needs different units, specialized separate forces, each one with its own role.

Am Yisrael is characterized by its unity particularly when there is diversity, when there are many different ways of thinking.

Let us make the effort to see the good in each other, to see the good in Am Yisrael, and to love those who are not like us as well as those who are.


Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon is head of Mizrachi’s Educational Advisory Board and Rabbinic Council. He serves as the Chief Rabbi of Gush Etzion, Rosh Yeshivah of the Jerusalem College of Technology and is the Founder and Chairman of Sulamot and La’Ofek.

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