Everyone is tippy-toeing around it, but there it is, staring us in the face. We're afraid to say anything lest we be mistaken for certain fundamentalist Christian ministers who have no shame in utilizing a horrid tragedy to bolster their own agendas. And so we look over it, we do not press it (with apologies to Sir W.S. Gilbert. As Tom Lehrer would say, the rest of you can look that up when you get home.) However, the comparison is unavoidable.
Tower of Babel. World Trade Center. Tower of Babel. World Trade Center.
Don't go there, everyone says. And they don't mean actually , physically going there. There's no real comparison between midgal Bavel and the WTC, right?
Well, had ya goin' there, didn't I? I don't think the story of the Tower of Babel and what happened on September 11, 2001 to the twin towers of the World Trade Center have any connection whatsoever that would in any way appeal to my sense of decency, dignity and my understanding of who and what is Gd, and what is our relationship to Gd. Those ministers preaching that the destruction of the towers was Divine retribution for abortion, homosexuality, pornography and anything else on their radar screens are about as far off base and they can be.
At midgal Bavel, Gd perhaps feared that humans were striving to be Gd's equal, building a tower to come up and challenge Gd. And so Gd came down and confounded human speech. (And boy, is it ever still confounded. But a digression-Imagine, for example, if we all still spoke the same language, and that was the language of the Torah? Then there wouldn't be much room for the subtleties of interpretation caused by translation. And then where would we be? Interesting question. Send me your answers!)
Note, however, that Gd did absolutely nothing to the tower! Its one of those popular Bible misconceptions. Gd did not destroy the tower or send it crashing to the ground. No, Gd simply confounded the speech of the humans and scattered them around the earth. The tower, perhaps, was just abandoned and never finished and perhaps decayed on its own. But Gd took no direct action against the tower. So the comparison to the WTC is based on the erroneous idea that Gd also struck down midgal Bavel.
However, (and you knew that had to be coming, didn't you?) let us examine this story and terms of what is now happening. One lesson it teaches us is that while working together to accomplish a task might isn't always necessarily a good thing. Though I am not one of them, that some in our midst protest the military actions we are taking in response to September 11, that some even see the acts as Divine retribution, that we don't all agree on how we see things even in the light of September 11 is a good thing. It puts a positive frame around Gd confounding human language. See differences in language as also being metaphor for differences in viewpoints, desires, goals, interpretations, etc. If we work together too much, we might lose sight of who we are, and try to become Gds, and assume that we can take any action we want at any time-that we are invincible, omnipotent, etc. We must value our differences, value the confounding.
And, to flip things around, it also gives us a goal. Perhaps the road to Moshiach or the messianic age is to eventually find a way, despite the confounding of our language and our being scattered all over the earth, to find our way back to a common language, and, metaphorically, back to Gan Eden and our innocence.
The story should also be a lesson to us to think about our relationship to our world and to Gd. Why did we built the WTC (or the Sears tower, or the Saturn V booster, or , well, you get the drift...)? Is it all about office space, efficient use of land on a crowded island? Or is there still a bit of hubris in it? To someone living in poverty in a 3rd world country, the WTC could be a sign of promise and hope, but it could also look like America giving the finger to the rest of the world, couldn't it?
None of this is to suggest that anything that happened on September 11th was in any way justified. I am angry and sickened, and want to see justice done to the perpetrators and their supporters. The frontier justice part of me enjoys But the Jew in me, the lover of Torah, wants us to ask, when we look at the empty spaces where the towers stood, when we look at the destroyed walls of the Pentagon, what else we might be able to learn from this beside the obvious lesson to be better prepared to deal with terrorism?
Look at what our ancestors said. "Come, let us build a city, and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for ourselves.." )(Gen. 11:4) The tragedy that struck them notwithstanding, are we, too, building towers to the sky, sending rockets into space, just "to make a name for ourselves" ? Are Osama bin Laden and his ilk doing what they are doing "to make a name for themselves" despite their protestations of religious, ethical and moral underpinnings? (And those are underpinnings, I believe, without a foundation, and I hope they crumble. I've read their holy Quran, and I'm hard pressed to find support in it for their actions.)
I support space research and sending man into space, simply for the sake of exploration, if nothing else. And surely so we can learn, explore, maybe meet other life forms, etc. I support engineers and architects finding clever and better ways to use technology, allowing them to build tall towers into the sky, so that people might live and work in them, and that we might sustain our world. (For I am not so naive as to believe that we could any longer sustain our world in a simple agrarian manner.) I support building mighty structures to house the military that are sometimes needed to defend freedom and liberty. And I support the actions that are sometimes necessary to insure that freedom. All these and more, I support. But I would support none of these that were being done just to "make a name for ourselves." We must not make the mistake of having the hubris of those who built midgal Bavel. Let us be content to be the humans we are, and let Gd be what Gd will be.
©2001 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other Musings On This Parasha:
A Nimrod! (Revised)
Noakh 5765-A Pshat In The Dark
Noach 5764-Finding My Rainbow
Noach 5763-Striving to be Human
Noach 5761-Getting Noticed
Noach 5760-What a Nimrod!
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