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Hammer and a Nail: Building, Buildings, and the Best Intentions

Rabbi Sari Laufer, Congregation Rodeph Sholom

October 25. 2014/1 Cheshvan 5775

Parashat Noach

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  1. וַיְהִי כָל הָאָרֶץ שָׂפָה אֶחָת וּדְבָרִים אֲחָדִים. וַיְהִי בְּנָסְעָם מִקֶּדֶם וַיִּמְצְאוּ בִקְעָה בְּאֶרֶץ שִׁנְעָר וַיֵּשְׁבוּ שָׁם. וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל רֵעֵהוּ הָבָה נִלְבְּנָה לְבֵנִים וְנִשְׂרְפָה לִשְׂרֵפָה וַתְּהִי לָהֶם הַלְּבֵנָה לְאָבֶן וְהַחֵמָר הָיָה לָהֶם לַחֹמֶר. וַיֹּאמְרוּ הָבָה נִבְנֶה לָּנוּ עִיר וּמִגְדָּל וְרֹאשׁוֹ בַשָּׁמַיִם וְנַעֲשֶׂה לָּנוּ שֵׁם פֶּן נָפוּץ עַל פְּנֵי כָל הָאָרֶץ. וַיֵּרֶד יְהוָה לִרְאֹת אֶת הָעִיר וְאֶת הַמִּגְדָּל אֲשֶׁר בָּנוּ בְּנֵי הָאָדָם. וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה הֵן עַם אֶחָד וְשָׂפָה אַחַת לְכֻלָּם וְזֶה הַחִלָּם לַעֲשׂוֹת וְעַתָּה לֹא יִבָּצֵר מֵהֶם כֹּל אֲשֶׁר יָזְמוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת. הָבָה נֵרְדָה וְנָבְלָה שָׁם שְׂפָתָם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִשְׁמְעוּ אִישׁ שְׂפַת רֵעֵהוּ. וַיָּפֶץ יְהוָה אֹתָם מִשָּׁם עַל פְּנֵי כָל הָאָרֶץ וַיַּחְדְּלוּ לִבְנֹת הָעִיר. עַל כֵּן קָרָא שְׁמָהּ בָּבֶל כִּי שָׁם בָּלַל יְהוָה שְׂפַת כָּל הָאָרֶץ וּמִשָּׁם הֱפִיצָם יְהוָה עַל פְּנֵי כָּל הָאָרֶץ.

    And the whole earth was of one language and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another: ‘Come, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said: ‘Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, with its top in heaven, and let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’ And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the LORD said: ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is what they begin to do; and now nothing will be withholden from them, which they purpose to do. Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth; and they left off to build the city. Therefore was the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth; and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.

  2. (ז) ויהי בנסעם מקדם ... אמר רבי אלעזר ב"ר שמעון: הסיעו עצמן מקדמונו של עולם...

    As they journeyed east: Rabbi Elazer b. Rabbi Shimon said: They journeyed from kedem, ​they took themselves away from the first of the world.

  3. They divorced themselves from the first of the world: i.e. from the pristine order of the world, from being content with the essential natural products of the universe and went after vanity, in seeking artificial things to satisfy their craving for luxuries. This diverted all of them from knowing Divine truths. The text was accordingly expounded to imply they journeyed away from the Eternal.

    -Abravanel on Genesis 11:2

     

  4. And all the land was one speech and few words: The sin of the generation of Babel was similar to that of Adam and Cain and his descendants. With the increase of creature comforts and leisure time, they became dissatisfied with the natural bounty provided by God and became interested in improving human techniques, in building cities, in leaving their agricultural life and becoming urbanized, and developing a highly organized political and social life, imagining this was the goal of mankind, with all the offices, prestige, acquisition of wealth, violence, robbery, and bloodshed that they, of necessity, involved...

    -Abravanel on Genesis 11:1

  5. (ז) רבי נחמן בר שמואל בר נחמן בשם רב שמואל בר נחמן אמר: הנה טוב מאד, זה יצר טוב. והנה טוב מאד, זה יצר רע. וכי יצר הרע טוב מאד אתמהא?! אלא שאלולי יצר הרע, לא בנה אדם בית, ולא נשא אשה, ולא הוליד, ולא נשא ונתן. וכן שלמה אומר: (קהלת ד): כי היא קנאת איש מרעהו:

    (7) Rabbi Nahman said in Rabbi Samuel's name: 'Behold, it was good' refers to the Good Desire; 'And behold, it was very good' refers to the Evil Desire. (It only says 'very good' after man was created with both the good and bad inclinations, in all other cases it only says 'and God saw that it was good') Can then the Evil Desire be very good? That would be extraordinary! But without the Evil Desire, however, no man would build a house, take a wife and beget children; and thus said Solomon: 'Again, I considered all labour and all excelling in work, that it is a man's rivalry with his neighbour.' (Ecclesiastes 4:4).

  6. לא היו שם אבנים לבנות את העיר ואת המגדל, ומה היו עושין, היו מלבנים לבנים ושורפים אותם כיוצר חרש עד שבנו אותו גבוה כשבעה מילין מקנה מעלת היו לו במזרחו ובמערבו, ואלו שהיו מעלו מעלין לבנים היו עולין ממזרחו, ואלו שהיו יורדין היו יורדין ממערבו, ואם נפל אדם ומת לא היו שמים לבם עליו, ואם נפלה לבנה היו יושבין ובוכין ואומרין מתי תעלה אחרת תחתיה,

    There were no stones there to build the city and the tower. What did they do? They made bricks and burned them, like the works of a magician--until they built a height of seven stories high. The bricks were hauled up from one side, and the descent was on the other. If a man fell down and died, no attention was paid to him. But if one brick fell down, they would sit and weep and say: Woe betide us, when will another one be hauled up in its place.

    -Pirke D'Rabbi Eliezer, 24

  7. That generation, being united by one common language and sharing the same ideas became unanimously convinced that the aim of their existence was a political society. Their sin was not in trying to achieve this but in regarding it as an end in itself rather than as a means to a still greater end--spiritual wellbeing.

    -Akedat Yitzchak

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