Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Noach
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

R. Avraham ben-tziyon ben shabtai

The Flood and the Tower

Parshat Noah

The Sin of the Generation of the Flood symbolizes the world's drive to satisfy its base physical desires, while that of the Generation of the Tower of Babel represents spiritual rebellion and denial of God's rule in the world.


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

Tishrey 5761
1. Between the Generation of the Flood and that of the Tower of Babel
2. The Need for Diversity of Opinions
3. What Does This Have To Do With Us?

Between the Generation of the Flood and that of the Tower of Babel
In this week's Torah portion - Parshat Noah - we bear witness to additional stages in the evolution of both the physical and spiritual realms of our world. This evolution is riddled with complications and crises which reach their peak with the Torah's depiction of the Generations of the Flood and of the Tower of Babel.

Concerning the Generation of the Flood the Book of Books teaches us that,
"The earth was corrupt before God, and the land was filled with violence. God saw the world and it was corrupted. All flesh had perverted its way on the earth.
"God said to Noah, The end of all flesh has come before me...'" (Genesis 6:11-13).

The Sages explain that the people had sinned through the performance of idol worship and sexual immorality, adding, "their decreed punishment, though, was not signed and sealed until they began to perform thievery." The core of their sin, then, was their increased inclinations toward base physical gratification. Unbridled craving for sexual pleasure and for wealth was what brought the world to such a depraved moral level that complete destruction became the only rectification possible.

When we reflect, though, upon the iniquity of the generation which sprang up after the Flood - the Generation of the Tower of Babel - we encounter a different sort of corruption:
"And all of earth was of one language, with uniform words" (Genesis 7:23).

It is with this declaration that the Torah chooses to begin its discussion of this generation. The Sages lend great importance to this statement, as the following Midrashic source indicates:
"Rabbi Eliezer said that the [negative] actions of the Generation of the Flood were revealed [to us in the Scriptures], while the actions of the Generation of the Tower of Babel were not.

This said, the Rabbi proceeds to reveal the generations undesirable actions to us by examining the words of the Torah:
"'With uniform words' - They made sharp remarks concerning [the following Biblical passages:] 'The Lord our God, the Lord is one.' and, 'Abraham was one in the land.' [note: the terms 'sharp' and 'uniform' are almost identical in Hebrew, hence the association here.]
"[Concerning 'Abraham was one...'] They said, 'Abraham is a fruitless grain, he produces no offspring.'
"And regarding 'The Lord our God,' they would say, Who is He that He choose the heavens for Himself and give us the earth!? Come, let us build a tower and construct an idol on its top, and place a sword in its hand, so that it appears to be doing battle with Him.'"(Bereshit Rabba 38:6)

According to the Sages, then, the essence of the Sin of the Generation of the Tower of Babel was not the drive for physical pleasures. The world had advanced and risen above that impulse; it presently stood before a corruption of a loftier sort - a spiritual corruption. This corruption, because of the its severity and its inherent danger, cannot be referred to outright in the Torah, rather it can only be hinted at. The root of the corruption: rebellion and apostasy with regard to God's providential rule in the world - "Who is He that He choose the heavens for Himself?"

The battle of this generation is waged against the ideals of the Patriarch Abraham, who, active at that time, was the first to reveal God's rule to the world - a rule which supervises and guides all events under the sun. Their main claim against Abraham is that, "Abraham is a fruitless grain, he produces no offspring." Avraham's course, according to them, lacks continuity - instead of creating growth and increase on earth, it will bring about cessation.

The Need for Diversity of Opinions
Rabbi Chaim ben Attar, in his commentary on the Torah, Or HaChaim , too sees the core of the Sin of the Generation of the Tower of Babel as contained in the words, "And all of earth was of one language, with uniform words." The people of that generation, explains Rabbi Attar, attempted to concentrate themselves in one location instead of spreading out upon the face of the earth. This desire stemmed from their conviction that humanity would be more capable of developing and perfecting itself through joint and concentrated efforts than it would through dispersal.

On the face of things, theirs was a correct and healthy desire, their assertion a most logical one. This being the case, why were they punished so? The Or HaChaim explains that their sin stemmed from the fact of God's disapproval. God desires the settlement of the entire world, as opposed to concentration in one place.
Yet why is it so important that the entire world be settled? The Or HaChaim is intentionally obscure in this regard, saying "...the reason for this is a great secret, as the mystics well know.
Let us, at any rate, try to understand the more revealed aspect of God's desire that mankind be spread out upon the face of the earth.

Every place on earth has its own climate, its own natural conditions. The natural conditions of an area influence the settlers of that region. God desires a variety of opinions in the world, and the appearance of many differing personalities, for, as a result of their appearance the status of the world improves. In this lies the great importance of man's being spread out on the planet - that there should appear as many differing personalities and traits in the world as possible. God desired that the world be illuminated from many differing angles, that the worship of God should be varied in nature, possessing intellect, emotion, fear, love, calmness, exultation etc. Every personality has a purpose in the world, a mission reserved for it alone, which only it can carry out. It is for this reason that a variety of opinions and lifestyles is so important.

The Nation of Israel represents a culmination of mankind, and therefore embodied in it are all the varieties of opinions which exist in mankind. As a result, the character of Jewish People is that which receives Torah, for the Torah contains seventy varieties of understanding, corresponding to the seventy nations of the world and their seventy languages. God did not desire the creation of a world in which all of its inhabitants were similar, possessing the same personality, and of one way of thinking. That sort of world would be monotonous, corrosive, lacking the power of fertility and perfection, and therefore not glorifying its maker.

I once heard a Torah scholar express himself in a rather biting manner. He claimed that he was not impressed by the Maharal's miraculously creating a Golem which carried out the precise will of it's creator. "I know," he said, "a number of Heads of Yeshivas who have, in their study halls, molded hundreds of Golems who think in exactly the same manner as their Rabbis, all of them possessing identical ways of thinking and living." The people of the Generation of the Tower of Babel attempted to prevent the dispersal of mankind, and by so doing to prevent diversity of opinion in the world. In this they sinned - in their banding together to act against God's will.

What Does All This Have To Do With Us?
We have touched upon the fact that the Sin of the Generation of the Flood symbolizes the world's drive to satisfy its base physical desires while that of the Generation of the Tower of Babel represents spiritual rebellion and denial of God's rule in the world. The latter's was a war against the idea which Abraham began to make known to the world - the faith in one God, and in the oneness of all of creation under His rule. These tendencies have not disappeared from our world and the struggle against them continues even until today.

Until recently, it was possible to identify quite clearly two dominating outlooks in the world. The western world raised the banner of sexual liberation, and of aggressive pursuit of economic prosperity, which correspond with the sin of theft and of sexual immorality of the Generation of the Flood.
In contradistinction to this attitude stood the outlook of the eastern block, emphasizing the idea that the perfection of the world was entirely dependent upon man, and that if only man would learn to improve his character, distancing himself from the aggressive pursuit of money, and dividing up his possessions evenly with others, he would be able to perfect the world without the help of God. The source of this outlook can be discerned in the Sin of the Generation of the Tower, who believed that, were they to unite themselves and to join forces, it would be within their ability to bring about the perfection of the world. Because they were incapable of creating a bridge between the physical and spiritual worlds, they came to the conclusion that the world is unaffected by God's rule, that there is "nobody governing the city." Therefore, they reasoned, the burden of elevating humankind falls upon man alone. It is man's responsibility to create a united and consolidated society in order that mankind succeed in fulfilling its purpose.

We though were privileged to witness with our own eyes the decay of this philosophy, the moral corruption which it brought, and the human depravity which it caused to all those who championed its cause. This outlook fell apart on its own and today practically nothing remains of it. God willing, the day will soon come when the western world outlook will crumble as well, and these two world views will make room for the appearance of a new, Jewish outlook, which unites the physical and the spiritual, and links the holy and mundane.

Thus, we see for ourselves how the world - with God's help - is advancing, throwing off its corruption in preparation for the appearance of God's word throughout the entire world, and its perfection through the Kingdom of the Almighty.


Maharal - Rabbi Yehuda Liva ben Betzalel, the Maharal of Prague (1525-1609), was one of the foremost thinkers of his time, and credited with making a Golem, an artificial human being endowed with life.
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