9/11  Men and Monuments

Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim

Much can be learned from history and from an intelligent analysis of the Torah and psychology. 

"And they said, 'Let us build for ourselves a city and a tower with its top reaching the heavens and let us make for ourselves a name, lest we be scattered upon the face of the entire Earth (Gen. 11:4)."  

Babel's Tower builders sought to make a name for themselves that would also survive their own generation, as they said, “Let us make for ourselves a name” (Ibn Ezra, Gen. 11:3).  Man constructs monuments to attribute eternal value to his beliefs or values. Man thinks that just as a monument will stand eternally, so too will the subject of its testimony. But man errs thinking his beliefs might be validated through a structure. Man is correct to value only that which is real. But something false is not rendered true by building a testament. 

"With its top reaching the heavens" 

This expresses man's desire to create something unsurpassed by others. In other words, "Ours will be noticed more than others." Man doesn’t change. Today is no different as countries erect structures taller than others, as if the tallest structure "wins.”  Sadly, too often the sentiment heard about 9/11 refers to the towers, not loss of life, thereby validating man’s awe of structures.

The vicious attack of Americans in the towers—beacons of democracy—displayed the terrorists' need for human recognition, just like Babel. If erecting a monument gains recognition for the builder, destroying that monument is a rejection of those values and proclaims the terrorists' values. But if God were truly man's sole concern, human recognition would be irrelevant. Islamic extremists are clearly preoccupied with man, valuing a social agenda over the Divine.

The tower builder, and destroyer—the terrorist—both, are insecure individuals where opposition is intolerable. This intolerance is a denial. It is generated by the unanswered questions other religions pose to one's own religion. One thinks, "If other views exist, perhaps my view is invalid, and maybe even rejected by God." The terrorist's solution is "might makes right.” The terrorist murders, since reason will not validate his views. As he does not follow a life of reason that will allow him to abandon his beliefs when shown to be false, he is propelled to preserve his view as right by silencing all opposition.

But this self doubt exists only in the minds of those who follow unproven views. In contrast, the Jew is not threatened by any number of religions and philosophies. He has proof. He knows all other religions are impostors. The Jew is calm, content and confident. The only times the Jew kills, is in defense, for punishment, or to remove irreparable cultures that would mislead others. But even in war, we extend peace before using force. And all that we do is based on God's commands. These commands are all validated by Revelation at Sinai. This one time in history, God revealed a religion. It is from here that the Jew derives his complete conviction in Torah, and realizes all other religions are false. God proved which religion is His; human opposition is futile.

An additional insecurity is displayed in the phenomenon of "culture." What causes so many people to follow a singular path, even though outsiders clearly see the flaws of such a culture? The desire for social acceptance propels people of all cultures not to deviate from their neighbors or their ethnicity. The ego is powerful, and most people act on it daily. If others like us, this satisfies our egos, so we follow others to gain their applause. Throughout time, men and women of all generations followed their peers to attain and maintain a pleasing self image. Mankind has thereby forfeited the pursuit of truth, in place of the pursuit of the self. This is why most cultures exist. What adds to the phenomenon of culture, is the trick of the mind that whichever culture I am part of, must be correct; “all others are wrong.” This is another reason why the builders of Babel's tower said, "Let us make for ourselves a name." 

"Lest we be scattered upon the face of the entire Earth"

Babel's builders ascribed to "strength in numbers." The fear of being scattered expressed their dependence on masses.  The insignificance of the individual is bothersome. But the Jew understands that truth is worth following, regardless of few adherents.  Babel's culture was attached to people, not truths. Thus, if scattered, they felt this compromised their philosophy. 

From the opening chapters of Genesis, God has long ago revealed the workings of the human psyche. Monument building and destruction present nothing new to the Torah student. When misguided and living based on emotions and not intellect, man will act today as he did back then. Building the tallest monuments, man strives to eternally validate his beliefs and culture. Following the pack and never questioning the religious status quo, he derives his much needed self image. And since such men cannot reason and are propelled emotionally, when confronted by other views, these cultures will continue to execute innocents, unprovoked, in the name of "proving" themselves right.

We await the prophet's words, a day when truth is sought over all other considerations. When this occurs, when intelligence is invited to religious discussions, it will naturally emerge that God created only one mankind, and only one religion…a religion that never needs an update. History proves this is so, and intelligence says it must be.