“That is why it was called Babel, because the Lord confounded the speech of the whole earth;
and from there scattered them over the face of the whole earth.” (Gen. 11:9)
Parashat Noach closes with the story of the tower of Babel. The story is often interpreted as a lesson about human arrogance, with God punishing the tower builders for presuming to reach the heavenly heights. It also can be read as an anti-technology allegory, since the tower builders believe their new-fangled bricks give them powers stone masonry couldn’t. Rabbi Daniel Gordis, president of the Shalem Foundation in Jerusalem, though, suggests the tower of Babel story is a political polemic and serves as a prelude to God’s selection of Abraham (and the Jewish people) as a partner.
After the flood, the Torah describes how Noah’s descendants spread out over the world, each settling a different land and each speaking a different language (Gen. 10:20, 31, 32). This is the natural order of things. How is it, then, that the tower builders all speak the same language? It is because Nimrod, “the first man of might on earth,” has established an empire which enforces uniformity (Gen. 10:8-9, 10), interrupting God’s plan. God responds by going down to, “confound their speech there” (Gen. 11:7), creating different languages, and sending them off to the four corners of the earth. God re-establishes the preferred order of things: the branching out of humanity into nations of distinct and diverse peoples. This sets the stage for next week’s parasha (portion), which begins God’s partnership with one particular people, the Jews.
The message of Parashat Noach is clear: diversity is a desired state. JCCs embrace this vision and work to overcome the “Babel” of language barriers to promote cross-cultural understanding.
Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,