Migdal Bavel by Yosef Novetsky


At the end of this week’s Parsha, there is a second tragic episode that gravely affects a large portion of the world’s populace - the episode of Migdal Bavel.  In this incident, a very unified group of people decides to found a city in a valley in the land of Shinnar, a fertile area of Mesopotamia.  When they arrive, these people decide to fire bricks, and build a city with a large tower whose top will reach the sky.  The Torah says that this large project was undertaken because the people wanted to make themselves a “name," lest they become dispersed from upon the earth.  Ironically, they actually do become dispersed upon the surface of the earth.  Many commentators believe that when the builders say lest we be dispersed, they do not only mean to build this edifice for posterity.  Rather, they are building this large edifice so they will not be scattered and decimated by a neighboring army, or another cataclysmic natural disaster, such as a flood or an earthquake, as they say, "Lest we be scattered upon the earth."  Yes, the motives of fame and posterity are there, but the main thrust of their reasoning is that they want to stay alive.   These fears are well grounded, as not many years before this city was built, a large flood wiped out the entire known world.  So, the question is why Hashem decided to take the initiative of scattering these people if their motives are seemingly innocuous.  After all, what is wrong with wanting to survive?  The answer is that these people were directly disobeying Hashem’s call to Noach after he came back onto dry land.  Hashem tells Noach to fill the land, exactly the opposite of what these people are doing.  These people seem to be thinking that if we spread out, there are wild animals, marauding tribes, and other such forces, which will take advantage of our weakness.  However, if we stay together, we will not be at risk, because we will have the strength of large numbers.  What these people are doing here is showing a tremendous lack of faith in Hashem, and an enormous amount of faith in man’s greatness.  These people think that if we stay together, we will do well, and if we do not, we will die.  However, by giving man the command to fill the land, Hashem is saying that man will not be destroyed because they will fill the land.  These people have an enormous amount of trust, as they able to put complete and total faith in one another for their personal protection.  However, there is no trust in Hashem, as these people believe that they must be together for defense, and they do not believe that if they spread out, they will be able to survive, as Hashem said that they would.  In this extreme lack of faith in Hashem lies the main reason for the dispersal.  On the surface, these people did nothing wrong: they built a city with a large monument by which they hoped to be remembered.  However, this city and their phraseology of "making themselves a name," shows that they are in this for themselves.  They want to be remembered, they want to be known to future generations, they are in this for their own personal gain.  However, there is no mention of Hashem - everything that happens is because of the strength of man and Hashem has no say in anything.  This narrative is showing us that what these people think is totally wrong.  Hashem has the final say in everything, and man has no say.  This story is trying to show us that even though man is able to establish himself a name for posterity, he may not do this by himself.  Rather, man may only establish his name for posterity with the help of God.

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