Unity In Communication
What is the connection between Adam’s existential state of aloneness and the tragic social isolation that results from the Tower of Babel, when one universal language is replaced by 70 languages, leading to bedlam, confusion and dispersion?
Let us return to the story of creation and God’s declaration: “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a help-opposite for him.” (Genesis 2:18).”
God divided a creature into two so that each half would seek completion in the other. Had Eve not emerged from Adam’s own flesh to begin with, they could never have become one flesh again.
Parshat Noach: Genesis 6:9-11:32; Isaiah 66:1-24. (Shabbat Rosh Chodesh)
One of the goals of a human being is to become one flesh with another human being, and this, the truest of partnerships, can only be achieved with someone who is really part of yourself, only with someone to whom you cleave intellectually and emotionally. If a relationship suffers from a lack of concern and commitment, then sexuality suffers as well.
The first global catastrophe, the flood, struck when the world rejected the ideal relationship between man and woman. Rape, pillage and unbridled lust became the norm. Only one family on Earth, Noah’s, remained righteous. Now, with the Tower of Babel, whatever values Noah attempted to transmit to future generations were forgotten.
What exactly happened when one language became 70 is difficult to understand. Yet, metaphorically, one language means people understand each other. With their existential and social loneliness kept at bay, they become one in love and in progeny.
The Tower of Babel represents a new stage of depravity, not sexual, but social. People wanted to create a great name by building great towers, not for the sake of Heaven, but for the sake of materialism; the new god became splendid achievements with mortar and brick. As they reached greater physical heights, they forgot the human, interpersonal value of a friend, a wife, a life’s partner. According to the Midrash, when a person fell off the Tower, work continued; but if a brick crashed to the ground, people mourned.
Thus the total breakdown of language fits the crime of people who may be physically alive, but whose tongues and hearts are locked — people who are no longer communicating with each other. It was no longer possible for two people to become one flesh and one bone, to stand naked without shame. Existential loneliness engulfed the world and intercommunication was forgotten. The powerful idea of one language became a vague memory.
The Tower of Babel ended an era in the history of mankind, and the social destruction it left behind could only be fixed by Abraham. His message of a God of compassion who wishes to unite the world in love and morality is still waiting to be heard.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone and chief rabbi of Efrat, Israel.