web analytics
September 3, 2014 / 8 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
Judaism
Sponsored Post
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (L) visits the JewishPress.com booth at The Event. And the Winners of the JewishPress.com Raffle Are…

Congratulations to all the winners of the JewishPress.com raffle at The Event



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
Journalist Steven Sotloff hid from his Islamic captors that he was Jewish but fasted on Yom Kippur.
Beheaded Journalist Hid His Judaism from ISIS Captors
Latest Judaism Stories
shofar+kotel

If you had an important court date scheduled – one that would determine your financial future, or even your very life – you’d be sure to prepare for weeks beforehand. On Rosh Hashanah, each individual is judged on the merit of his deeds. Whether he will live out the year or not. Whether he will […]

The_United_Nations_Building

It is in the nature of the Nations of the World to be hostile towards the Jewish People.

Taste-of-Lomdus-logo

First, how could a beis din of 23 judges present a guilty verdict in a capital punishment case? After all, only a majority of the 23 judges ruled in favor of his verdict.

Of paramount importance is that both the king and his people realize that while he is the leader, he is still a subject of God.

Untimely News
‘A Mourner Is Forbidden To Wear Shoes…’
(Mo’ed Katan 20b)

Question: The Gemara in Berachot states that the sages authored our prayers. Does that mean we didn’t pray beforehand?

Menachem
Via Email

When a person feels he can control the destiny of other people, he runs the risk of feeling self-important, significant, and mighty.

Needless to say, it was done and they formed a great relationship as his friend and mentor. He started attending services and volunteered his time all along putting on tefillin.

He took me to a room filled with computer equipment and said, “You pray here for as long as you want.” I couldn’t believe my ears.

On Friday afternoon, Dov called Kalman. “Please make sure to return the keys for the car on Motzaei Shabbos,” he said. “We have a bris on Sunday morning and we’re all going. We also need the roof luggage bag.”

On Chol HaMoed some work is prohibited and some is permitted. According to some opinions, the work prohibition is biblical; according to others, it’s rabbinical.

If there is a mitzvas minuy dayanim in the Diaspora, then why is there a difference between Israel and the Diaspora in the number of judges and their distribution?

Judaism is a religion of love but also a religion of justice, for without justice, love corrupts.

The time immediately preceding Mashiach’s arrival is likened to the birth pangs of a woman in labor.

More Articles from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
Rabbi Sacks

Judaism is a religion of love but also a religion of justice, for without justice, love corrupts.

Rabbi Sacks

Culture is not nature. There are causes in nature, but only in culture are there meanings.

Blind obedience is not a virtue in Judaism. God wants us to understand the laws He has commanded us

Israel shows the world that a people does not have to be large in order to be great.

When someone exercises power over us, they diminish us; when someone teaches us, they help us grow.

Ours is a small and intensely vulnerable people. Inspired, we rise to greatness. Uninspired, we fall

The negotiation between Moses and the tribes of Reuven and Gad is a model of conflict resolution.

God’s “name” is therefore His standing in the world. Do people acknowledge Him, respect Him, honor Him?

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

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: