Weekly Sidra: Noach (Noah)
Torah Portion: Bereshit / Genesis 6:9-11:32
Haftorah: Yeshayahu / Isaiah 54:1-54:10
The portion of Noah presents two accounts of sins committed by the early generations, the generation of the flood and the generation of the Tower of Babel. According to Rabbi Elazar “The actions done by the people during the flood are told explicitly, however, the actions of the tower builders are not told in detail. In other words the sins during the flood are fully described, but it does not describe the sins of the tower builders.
In order to understand the grave punishment of the flood it is necessary to analyze the account of the tower builders (11:1-9). Rashi’s commentary of 11:9 states which sin was more grave that during the flood or during the tower building? The former did not raise their hand against God and perished while the latter openly defied God and did not perish. If the sin of the latter group was worse why was the punishment less harsh? Rashi goes on to explain that while the people pre-flood were robbing and killing each other thus they died, the tower builders lived in relative peace and harmony as it is said: there were one people with one language, thus a more lenient punishment.
In reviewing other commentaries on the subject the flood establishes moral grounds for punishment and the open rebellion against God reveals the religious offence of the Tower builders. The Midrash Bereshit Rabbah explains how this entire generation would never pay even the smallest attention when a person died, but if a brick broke they would sit down and wail. This comment underlines the low esteem for human values in the face of the high esteem held for material achievements.
Ibn-Ezra brands the conduct of the tower builders as boisterous and arrogant. He explains their ulterior motive and intention the tower represents a monument to their prestige and self glorification as it says: and let us make a name (11:4) Cassuto states not only did the tower builders commit a religious sin, but were generally demoralized. The Torah in the episode of the Tower of Babel imparts a moral and religious lesson. First that arrogant acclaim for material achievement is corrupt in the sight of God; secondly that the Divine plan will forever prevail and always be executed despite all human endeavors to prevent its realization. (U. Cassuto: From Noah to Abraham, p. 127)
Seforno reaches the conclusion that the punishment was a preventative measure at an early stage to frustrate their anticipated evil. They were set to force the entire generation the very idolatry which they made manifest through the city and the tower. Commenting on (11:5) and the Lord descended to see the city and the tower, he states: “The term of Divine descent in this context is employed when the events do not call for punishment, but their inherent nature point to ultimate demoralization.
What would have been their ultimate crime? Seforno states that if rulers are trying to impose by coercion an idea which is based on deceit forcing a uniformity of thought then it would be difficult to correct the distortion. However, if there is diversity, chances for controversy and discussion, different languages and views we may be confident that the truth may emerge. He continues “if they had their way, that cult of idolatry would have become obligatory for the whole human race and nobody would have had the opportunity to discover the true Creator. If there were disagreements between people about idol worship they might finally come to realize the existence of the true God.
E. Kaufman decided on a religious interpretation for the sin of the tower builders. He states “The story of the Tower-builders explains the origin of religious evil in the world –the dominance of deities.” This shows how humans started to defy God and search for a substitute for Him exemplified by the tower.
We have seen that neither crime nor punishment is told in this story Ibn-Ezra remarks “and God scattered them – which was in their favour, as previously said (1:28) and fill the earth.” According to Ibn-Ezra the scattering of the human race was a part of God’s plan from the beginning. The account of the tower builders shows the futility of human attempts to thwart the will of God.
Tags: commentaries, ezra, genesis 6, human values, isaiah, Midrash, moral grounds, noach, offence, one people, open rebellion, peace and harmony, rabbi elazar, relative peace, rsquo, sidra, torah portion, tower building, tower of babel, ulterior motive
More Related Articles: