Babel’s Tower of Fame

Rabbi Moshe Abarbanel

Man seeks fame. He desires his name be known by all, for eternity. With technology, today people use things such as YouTube to reach millions of people in an attempt to become famous. Justin Beeber reached a huge audience through YouTube and achieved Fame. Men construct buildings to achieve fame, i.e Rockefeller Center and Trump Tower.

In last weeks parshas Noach in Chapter 11, we find a strange story of the Tower of Babel. Don Issac Abarbanel points out that compared to the story of Adam in the Garden of Eden and the Generation of the Flood, we are not told in this case of that generation who built the Tower, what was their specific transgression. In fact, the people who built the tower possessed great qualities. They spoke one language: “the whole earth was on language (11:1).” They agreed to move and settle a new place, “They migrated east and found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there (11:2).” They created new technology: “Come let us make bricks and burn them in fire (11:3).” Until now, people built with straw, wood or stones. They did not create uniform bricks that would allow for greater quality control in construction. Uneven stones do not allow tall structures like brick and mortar. Now, they took the next step build a tower to the sky: “Let us build a city, and a tower in the heavens.” 

Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch points out that man, at no time, suggested that we “understand God together, building a society dedicated to the knowing of the creator.”

Don Issac Abarbanel points out when the Almighty investigates, He refers to these builders as “Children of Adam (11:5).” Rabbi Abarbanel learns: just like Adam sinned, so did this generation. I believe, just as Adam and Chava got lost from their focus of studying creation to understand God, so too did the Generation of the Tower forget what purpose all their unity, technology and construction should have been used for. It should have been used to understand the King of Kings. Instead, they took credit for all their accomplishments, they believed it would make them famous. The hint we are given to this transgression is that the Tower would allow us to “Make a name for ourselves (11:4).” Making a name for yourself is a desire for fame.

Man may use his intelligence to work together, to discover technology and to create great structures…but not for his own greatness; but for the Creator’s. The Rambam in his Mishnah Torah, (Hilicos Tephila 11:2) requires the Synagogue to be the highest structure built on the highest spot in the city: “When a Synagogue is built, it should be built at the highest point of the city: ‘she cries at the head of the public places’ (Proverbs 1:21).” It should be taller than all other buildings in the city: “to lift the house of God (Ezra 9:9).” What would people think if the tallest building in NYC was the Synagogue of Freedom? If man used all his energies towards the Divine?

Have a good shabbos.