web analytics
October 23, 2014 / 29 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



Home » Judaism » Parsha »

Babel’s Larger Theme


Between the Flood and the call to Abraham, between the universal covenant with Noah and the particular covenant with one people comes the strange, suggestive story of Babel:

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:1-4).

The larger theme of the story of Babel is the second act in a four-act drama that is unmistakably one of the connecting threads of Bereishit, the Book of Beginnings. It is a sustained polemic against the city and all that went with it in the ancient world. The city, it seems to say, is not where we find God.

The first act begins with the first two human children. Cain and Abel both bring offerings to God. God accepts Abel’s, not Cain’s. Cain, in anger, murders Abel. God confronts him with his guilt: “Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” Cain’s punishment was to be a “restless wanderer on the earth.” Cain then “went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” We then read:

And Cain knew his wife; and she conceived, and gave birth to Enoch: and he [Cain] built a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch (Genesis 4:17).

The first city, born in blood, was founded by the first murderer, the first fratricide.

In case one thinks otherwise, the story of Cain is not as founding myth because the Bible is not interested in Cain’s city, nor does it valorise acts of violence. It is the opposite of a founding myth. It is a critique of cities as such. The most important fact about the first city, according to the Bible, is that it was built in defiance of God’s will. Cain was sentenced to a life of wandering, but instead he built a town.

The third act, more dramatic because more detailed, is Sodom, the largest or most prominent of the cities of the plain in the Jordan Valley. It is there that Lot, Abraham’s nephew, makes his home. The first time we are introduced to it, in Genesis 13, is when there is a quarrel between Abraham’s herdsmen and those of Lot. Abraham suggests that they separate. Lot sees the affluence of the Jordan plain. It was “well watered, like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt” (Genesis 13:10). He decides to live there. Immediately we are told that “the men of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.” Given the choice between affluence and virtue, Lot chooses affluence.

Five chapters later comes the great scene in which God announces his plan to destroy the city, and Abraham challenges him. Perhaps there are fifty innocent people there, perhaps just ten. How can God destroy the whole city? “Shall the judge of all the earth not do justice?” God agrees: if there are ten innocent people, He will not destroy the city.

In the next chapter, we see two of the three angels that had visited Abraham arrive at Lot’s house in Sodom. Shortly thereafter, a terrible scene plays itself out:

Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom – both young and old – surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them” (Genesis 19:4-5).

About the Author: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently “The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning.”


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Babel’s Larger Theme”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Canadian policeman at scene of terrorist attack in Ottawa on Wednesday.
Terror: US Pledges Support for Canada but Tells Israel to Stay Calm
Latest Judaism Stories
Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Boundaries must be set in every home. Parents and children are not pals. They are not equals.

Rabbi Avi Weiss, head of theYeshivat Chovevei Torah. Rabbi Asher Lopatin will be replacing him as head of the school.

Noah and his wife could not fathom living together as husband and wife and continuing the human race

Rabbi Sacks

The Babel story is the 2nd in a 4-act drama that’s unmistakably a connecting thread of Bereishit

Bible1

Our intentions are critical in raising children because they mimic everything we parents do & think

A humble person who achieves a position of prominence will utilize the standing to benefit others.

Myth #1: It is easy to be a B’nai Noach. It is extraordinarily hard to be a B’nai Noach.

The creation of the world is described twice. Each description serves a unique purpose.

Question: I recently loaned money to a friend who has been able to repay only part of it. This was an interest-free loan. We exchanged a signed IOU, not a proper shtar with witnesses, since I have always trusted her integrity and only wanted a document that confirms what was loaned and what was repaid. Now that shemittah is approaching, what should I do? Should I forgive the loan? And if my friend is not able to repay it, may I deduct the unpaid money from my ma’aser requirement?

Name Withheld

To the surprise of our protectzia-invested acquaintances, my family has thrived in our daled amos without that amenity, b’ezras Hashem.

Shimon started adjusting the branches on the roof. In doing so, a branch fell off the other side of the car and hit the side-view mirror, cracking it.

I, the one who is housed inside this body, am completely and utterly spiritual.

Should we sit in the sukkah on a day that may be the eighth day when we are not commanded to sit in the sukkah at all?

For Appearance’s Sake
‘Shammai Did Not Follow Their Own Ruling’
(Yevamos 13b 14a)

If one hurts another human being, God is hurt; if one brings joy to another, God is more joyous.

I’m grateful to Hashem for everything; Just the same, I’d love a joyous Yom Tov without aggravation.

Bereshit: Life includes hard choices that challenge our decisions, leaving lingering complications.

More Articles from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Rabbi Sacks

The Babel story is the 2nd in a 4-act drama that’s unmistakably a connecting thread of Bereishit

Rabbi Sacks

The emphasis on choice, freedom and responsibility is a most distinctive features of Jewish thought.

Sukkot’s duality is that it’s the most universalistic and the most particularistic of all festivals

When we cry from the heart, someone listens; When we cry on Yom Kippur, God hears us.

Who am I? What are the most important things in my life? What do I want to be remembered for? If, as a purely hypothetical exercise, I were to imagine reading my own obituary, what would I want it to say? These are the questions Rosh Hashanah urges us to ask ourselves. As we pray […]

Simply, for Rambam the number 14 (2×7) was his favored organizing principle.

Torah isn’t a theological treatise or a metaphysical system but a series of stories linked over time

We believe that God created each of us, regardless of color, class, culture or creed, in His image.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/babels-larger-theme/2011/10/26/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: