Meir Panim’s Tiberias Free Restaurant not only provides warm meals, but the opportunity to socialize as well.
The Torah gives its own etymology for the word Babel, which literally meant “the gate of God.” The Torah relates it to the Hebrew root b-l-l, meaning “to confuse.” In the story, this refers to the confusion of languages that happens as a result of the hubris of the builders. But b-l-l also means “to mix, intermingle,” and this is what the Babylonians are deemed guilty of: mixing heaven and earth, that should always be kept separate. B-l-l is the opposite of b-d-l, the key verb of Bereishit 1, meaning “to distinguish, separate, keep distinct and apart.”
The third mistake was the builders’ desire not to be “scattered over the face of the whole earth.” In this they were attempting to frustrate God’s command to Adam, and later to Noah, to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” (Genesis 1:28; 9:1). This seems to be a generalized opposition to cities as such. There is no need, the Torah seems to be saying, for you to concentrate in urban environments. The patriarchs were shepherds. They moved from place to place. They lived in tents. They spent much of their time alone, far from the noise of the city, where they could be in communion with God.
So we have in Bereishit a tale of four cities: Enoch, Babel, Sodom and “Egypt.”
This is not a minor theme but a major one. What the Torah is implicitly telling us is how and why Abrahamic monotheism was born.
Hunter/gatherer societies were relatively egalitarian. It was only with the birth of agriculture and the division of labor, of trade and trading centers, and economic surplus and marked inequalities of wealth – concentrated in cities with their distinctive hierarchies of power – that a whole cluster of phenomena began to appear. And not just the benefits of civilization, but the downside as well.
This is how polytheism was born, as the heavenly justification of hierarchy on earth. It is how rulers came to be seen as semi-divine – another instance of b-l-l, the blurring of boundaries. It is where what mattered were wealth and power, where human beings were considered in the mass rather than as individuals. It is where whole groups were enslaved to build monumental architecture. Babel, in this respect, is the forerunner of the Egypt of the Pharaohs that we will encounter many chapters and centuries later.
The city is, in short, a dehumanizing environment and potentially a place where people worship symbolic representations of themselves.
Tanach is not opposed to cities as such. Their anti-type is Jerusalem, home of the Divine presence. But that, at this stage of history, lies long in the future.
Perhaps the most relevant distinction for us today is the one made by the sociologist Ferdinand Tonnies, Gemeinschaft (community) and Gesellschaft (society). Community is marked by face-to-face relationships in which people know, and accept responsibility for, one another. Society, in Tonnies’s analysis, is an impersonal environment where people come together for individual gain, but remain essentially strangers to one another.
In a sense, the Torah project is to sustain Gemeinschaft – strong face-to-face communities – even within cities. For it is only when we relate to one another as persons, as individuals bound together in shared covenant, that we avoid the sins of the city, which are today what they always were: sexual license, the worship of the false gods of wealth and power, the treatment of people as commodities, and the idea that some people are worth more than others.
That is Babel, then and now, and the result is confusion and the fracturing of the human family.
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.
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The Jewish outlook has always been that the physical world with all its beauty and pleasures is great, but only if it’s used to do good and express higher ethical values. Greek culture taught that beauty and pleasure are where it’s at – period – and let’s keep values and meaning out of the picture.
Remember 613 Torah Avenue? Of course you do.
Released in the 1970’s and through the early 1980’s, the 613 Torah Avenue Tapes on the weekly parsha were part and parcel of most frum children’s Torah education during those years, and continue to be used by many teachers and rebbeim.
Just as the moon waxes and wanes and then totally disappears from view before returning to the night sky, so, too, the Jewish people.
In commemoration of 19 Kislev, the anniversary of the release of the Ba’al HaTanya, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, from prison in Russia about 150 years ago, a sale of chassidic sefarim took place in Yerushalayim. Sefarim were sold at a flat rate of 4 for 100 NIS. Sefarim were not sold individually for 25 NIS, but only in sets of four. Discs of chassidic music were also sold. People thronged from all over Israel to take advantage of this opportunity.
At about 4 a.m. on cold and damp autumn mornings in London, Dad would try to wake us in time for Selichot, the pre-Jewish New Year dawn prayers. As we heard Dad’s footsteps mounting the stairs, my brother and I would hide under our covers and mutter our displeasure at being disturbed.
In this week’s parshah Yaakov Avinu takes his entire family down to Mitzrayim. The Torah lists the family members who made this journey. On the list is Shimon’s son, Shaul. The pasuk refers to him as Shaul ben haCanaanis – the son of the Canaanis.
Chapter And Verse?
‘Has The Time For Slaughter Arrived?’
Question: I have noticed that some people stand during the Birkot Keriat Shema. I was always under the impression that one is supposed to sit for Shema and its berachot. Is there a source that allows one to stand during this part of the prayer?
The wedding was going full blast, with the joyful Jewish music playing. The sound of the violin awoke unfulfilled longings and triggered moisture in the eyes.
The family had reached deadlock.
According to the Sefer Yetzirah, each month is associated with a letter of the aleph-beis. Teves was formed by means of the letter ayin, which has a numerical value of seventy – a number that figures prominently in Judaism.
Having come to the conclusion that nobody was more qualified than Yosef to lead Egypt in anticipation of and during the approaching famine, Pharaoh appointed him prime minister. This appointment made Yosef the second most powerful man in Egypt.
Standing up for the truth is by no means an easy feat and Yosef paid for it dearly.
The family had reached deadlock.
A while back I inducted a new rabbi into office. It’s something I do often, and there is a certain predictability to the proceedings. I give the new rabbi my blessings and encouragement. He in reply thanks those who have helped him through the years, and sets out his aspirations as a spiritual leader and his vision for the future of the congregation.
Bad things happen, and when they do, the leader must take the strain so that others can sleep easily in their beds.
The purchase of the Cave of Machpelah is evidently a highly significant event because it is recorded in great detail.
Leaders lead. They don’t conform for the sake of conforming. They don’t do what others do merely because others are doing it. They think outside the box. They march to a different tune.
Could we understand the history of Israel without its prehistory, the stories of Abraham and Sarah and their children?
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/parsha/babels-larger-theme/2011/10/26/
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