Migdal Bavel מגדל בבל The Tower of Babel

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Migdal Bavel - מגדל בבל

The Tower of Babel

By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)

Migdal Bavel - מגדל בבל 1

The Tower of Babel 1

Dor Haflagah – דור הפלגה: Is a Hebrew phrase that means “the generation of the dispersion”. 1

Tower Trouble 5

Bricks 7

Mesorah - מסורה 8

Exile 13

A Deeper Look 13


In this study I would like to explore the incident at Migdal Bavel, the tower1 at Babel.2 In that incident, the people decided to make it impossible for themselves to be scattered. In the end, HaShem scattered them for their sin. It was mida kneged mida, measure for measure. HaShem commanded Noach and his family to “fill the earth” after the flood. This generation decided that they did not wish to fill the earth, but rather to concentrate themselves in one place. Thus, in nine verses, the Dor Haflagah3 went from being unified to being dis-unified.
Note the frequent usage of the first person plural in the description of the events at Shinar.
Bereshit Genesis) 11:1-4 Everyone on earth had the same language and the same words. And as they traveled from the east, they came upon a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another: Come, let us make bricks and burn them hard... And they said, Come let us build us a city and a tower4 with its top in the sky, and we will make a name for ourselves - v’naaseh lanu shem - lest we shall be scattered all over the world. Then God came down to see...

EU Parlement building in Strasbourg.

Designed after the incomplete tower of Babel.
One key phrase in the Torah’s depiction of the tower’s purpose reflects the egocentric nature of this generation:
Bereshit Genesis) 11:4 we shall make a name for ourselves.
Rather than devoting themselves to the Name of HaShem, this generation removes Him from the picture altogether. The builders of the tower united for the unholy purpose of glorifying man’s dominion and power.
The commentators explain5 the intent and sin that took place at the Tower of Bavel in the following manner: There was a desire on the part of many that the entire world’s population live in one place. They therefore desired to build a city and tower that would unite the world’s population in one locale.
This, however, was at odds with HaShem’s desire of “filling the world, and conquering it”,6 that HaShem’s request of “settling [all of] creation7 be achieved throughout the entire world, not only in one location.
This is also why HaShem commanded Noach to “Leave the Ark ... and fill the earth”.8 In the Ark, all men and animals were confined to one narrow space. HaShem’s intent, however, is for the entire world to be “filled,” so that the whole world is transformed into a dwelling place for HaShem. And this, of course, is what Zayin MarCheshvan is all about.
In the end, none of the people in Shinar are identified by name, in the Torah, because they wanted to make a name for themselves. In contrast, Avraham who called upon the Name of HaShem,9 was himself also called by name and given a new name.10 At Shinar, Avraham rejected the plan of the people.
Abram was 48 years old at the time of the Tower of Babel; and Abram did not participate in the sin of Babel.
Avodah Zarah 19a R. Simeon b. Pazi expounded [that verse as follows]: ‘Happy is the man that hath not walked’ — i.e., to theatres and circuses of idolaters ‘nor stood in the way of sinners’ — that is he who does not attend contests of wild beasts;11 ‘nor sat in the seat of the scornful’ — that is he who does not participate in [evil] plannings. And lest one say, ‘Since I do not go to theatres or circuses nor attend contests of wild animals, I will go and indulge in sleep.’ Scripture therefore continues, ‘And in His Law doth He meditate day and night.’ Said R. Samuel b. Nahmani in the name of R. Jonathan: Happy is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the wicked — that is our father Abraham who did not follow the counsel of the men of the Generation of the Division12 who were wicked, as it is said, Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, with its top in heaven,’13 nor stood in the way of sinners — for he did not take up the stand of the Sodomites, who were sinful, as it is said, Now the men of Sodom were wicked and sinful against the Lord exceedingly;14 nor sat in the seat of the scornful — for he did not sit in the company of the Philistines, because they were scoffers; as it is said, And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said: Call for Samson that he may make us sport.15
The Gemara describes the idolatrous nature of the people of Shinar:
Sanhedrin 109a THE GENERATION OF THE DISPERSION HAVE NO PORTION IN THE WORLD TO COME etc. What did they do? — The scholars of R. Shila taught: They said, ‘Let us build a tower, ascend to heaven, and cleave it with axes, that its waters might gush forth.’ In the West [sc. Palestine academies] they laughed at this: If so, they should have built it on a mountain!
R. Jeremiah b. Eleazar said: They split up into three parties. One said, ‘Let us ascend and dwell there;’ the second, ‘Let us ascend and serve idols;’ and the third said, ‘Let us ascend and wage war [with God].’ The party which proposed, ‘Let us ascend, and dwell there’ — the Lord scattered them: the one that said, ‘Let us ascend and wage war’ were turned to apes, spirits, devils, and night-demons; whilst as for the party which said, ‘Let us ascend and serve idols’ — ‘for there the Lord did confound the language of all the earth.’16
It has been taught. R. Nathan said: They were all bent on idolatry. [For] here it is written, let us make us a name;17 whilst elsewhere it is written, and make no mention of the name of other gods:18 just as there idolatry is meant, so here too. R. Jonathan said: A third of the tower was burnt, a third sunk [into the earth], and a third is still standing.19 Rab said: The atmosphere of the tower causes forgetfulness. R. Joseph said: Babylon and Borsif20 are evil omens for the Torah.21 What is the meaning of Borsif? — R. Assi said: An empty [shafi] pit [bor].22
In Bereshit (Genesis) 11:2 we see that the people traveled east to arrive at shinar. Those who go east are going away from HaShem (See EAST). Thus we see that their motivation is not good despite the seemingly innocent words.
The suggested thematic connection between Migdal Bavel and the choosing of Avraham Avinu is supported by the Midrash that states that Avraham was forty-eight (48) years old when he recognized HaShem for the first time. Avraham Avinu reached age forty-eight in the same year that Peleg died23 which, according to Chazal, corresponds to the precise year of Migdal Bavel - 1996 from the creation of the world. Recall that Avraham was born in year 1948!

(See also Appendix A)

Rashi gives us some insights on Bereshit 1:25 where he speaks about Peleg and the dispersion.
Bereshit (Genesis) 10:25 And to Eber were born two sons: one was named Peleg, because in his days the earth was divided, and the name of his brother was Joktan.
RASHI: was divided: The tongues became confused, and they were scattered from the valley and were dispersed throughout the entire world. We learn that Eber was a prophet, since he named his son for a future event [i.e.פֶּלֶג resembles the word נִפְלְגָה meaning “dispersed.”]. And we learned in Seder Olam (ch. 1) that at the end of his [Peleg’s] days, they were dispersed. For if you say that [they were dispersed] at the beginning of his days, behold his brother Joktan was his junior, and he begot many families before that, as it is said (verse 26): “And Joktan begot, etc.,” and [only] afterwards, [is it written] (11: 1):”And the whole earth was one language.” Now if you say [that they were dispersed] in the middle of his [Peleg’s] days, [this is not so, because] Scripture does not come to make things obscure but to explain. Hence, you learn that in the year of Peleg’s death, they were dispersed.

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