Copy Right 2022
Rabbi Dr Zvi Aviner
The Tower of Babel and
The Story of the Tower of Babel is located in the flow of the stories in the Book of Genesis between Noah and Abraham. Since Abraham struggled against Empires and Organized THEFT, the story of the Tower is the birth of HUMAN ORGANIZATION.
Hence there is a progression in the Commandments:
IDOLATRY pertains even to the individual.
ADULTERY requires a married couple and an outsider
BLOODSHED can be done within a family, or society or a tribe, and between religious parties as in Noah’s time
THEFT can be done on all levels of society
But ORGENIZED THEFT is done by human large ORGANIZATION such as States and Empires.
It is proper, then, that he story of the Babylonian Tower follows the story of Noah’s Flood. It is the story of the birth of large HUMAN ORGANIZATION, which historically took place just before Abraham’s time. The scholar indeed, attribute the birth of large states and Empires such as in Egypt and Babel to the era around 2400-1900 BC, just before Abraham time.
The story begins with the description of the first human society after the Flood:
“This is the history of the Children of Noah Shem, Ham and Yefet, to them were sons born after the Flood… (Genesis 10:1)
Here is the first time that the term Children of Noah, Bnei Noah, Noahides, is mentione in the Torah, as related to Mankind. Noah has replaced Adam as our father, and Naama has replaced Eve as our mother.
Next, the Torah presents the Seventy Families of Noahide Nations by name. Today, many nations can trace their origin to that list.
The Angelic Morning Choir
Legend says that along with the Seventy Noahide Nations on Earth, a Heavenly Choir of Seventy Angles was formed at the Heavenly Throne. The Choir wakes up at dawn and chants “three times holy” as such:
“Holy, Holy, Holy, the Earth is full of His Glory!” (Isaiah 6:3). Each Angle, each nation, chants only one “holy,” and a group of three angles chant “three holies,” in perfect harmony.
That choir would play a role later in the story of Jacob’s wrestling with the Angle of Esau. The name Israel actually means “Who Chants with El,” or with the Heavenly Choir of ELKM.
There are many ways to study Nimrod, the main character behind the Tower. Some read the text to say that he was a wicked person, rebellious against HaSehM. Nimrod means “Let us rebel.”
Others see him in the opposite way, as a benevolent, charismatic person who simply took advantage of the drastic changes in the society around him. This approach is more interesting than the first one, since it implies that the Tower can happen again at any stage of history, even today. So let us take this approach here in our class.
After presenting the first generations that followed the Flood, the Torah presents Nimrod saying: :
“And Kush begot Nimrod,
he was the first to be mighty on Earth.
He was a mighty hunter before YHVH
Therefor it is said: like Nimrod,
a mighty hunter before YHVH.” (4:8)
The text emphasize three times how mighty Nimrod was. First as an individual, then as a hunter before YHVH, then again as a mighty hunter before YHVH.
The expression “hunter before YHVH” can’t refer to hunting or killing animals, for that is not what YHVH would approve. It refers, rather, as the Midrash points out, to hunting – attracting – people and animals by MOUTH. In other words, Nimrod was an extremely gifted ORATOR, who knew the heart of his audience and catered to it very effectively. And when he rose to power, he was a master of COMMUNIICATION, becoming a tyrant without lifting a sword. That is why he is called a Hunter Before YHVH. He needed no police and no army to establish his power. He achieved that by the power of his mouth.
Indeed, in Kabbalah, the scepter of kingship is the mouth, rather than the sword.
So what are the three times that the Torah mentions that he was mighty?
The first reference of Nimrod as “mighty” – according to the Midrash – relates to his strong character.
The second time the Torah refers to him as “a mighty hunter before YHVH” refers to his ability to hunt people “democratically, “by his oratorial talent. He excelled in reading the people’s minds and addressed it in his speeches. Today we would say: he followed the latest poll.
The third reference to Nimrod as a Mighty King before YHVH refers to his ascent on a throne of dictatorship without lifting a sword. The masses lifted him up upon them with enthusiasm.
So, what exactly happened? Let us follow the Torah step by step.
Peace on Earth
The Torah describe first the human society after the Flood:
“And all the Earth was of one language and of one matte.” (11: 1)
After the Flood, the Seventy Noahide Nations spread all over Earth and occupied it in peace. They spoke one language – Hebrew, they had one faith – keeping the Seven Commandments of Noah, and they had only one goal – peace and prosperity. The dream of the UN comes true.
Each family grabbed its territory and developed its farm. OWNERSHIP of the land was determined by settling in it, by taking possession of it.
Each family produced its own crop, and they traded. Trading became the most respected vocation of the time. The name ‘Canaan’ actually means a trader. OWNERSHIP could be changed legally by selling and buying.
In time, each of the Seventy Nation of Noah defined its border. A covenant of Noah Nations was established where all nations pledged to respected each other borders.
The memory of that covenant of Noah Nations lasted for years. For instance, when King Balak of Moab called Bilaam to curse Israel, in Moses’ time, he used this covenant as a base for his claim that Israel should not be allowed to cross over the Jordan River, for that would breach the Noahide Covenant! (see Rashi)
Thus, we see that the first generations enjoyed peace, prosperity and brotherhood, something that our UN only aspires for the future
Nimrod the mighty charact
Nimrod was born to Kush, the first leader of the Seventy Nations. Kush was Noah’s grandson from his son Ham. He is described as a righteous person, revered by everyone, and his name is still encoded in the names of the mountains near the Caspian Sea.
Kush recognized that his son nimrod was different from all other kids of his age. He learned a lot, got close to Noah and Naama, who loved him so much that they gave him as a present the miraculous dress that Adam and Eve had brought from Eden. Whoever wears it can understand not only what is on people’s mind but also on what is on animal’s mind. He could communicate not only with people effectively, but also with animals. Therefore, he was a “Hunter before YHVH.”
The second reference to Nimrod as a hunter before YHVH was in regard to his ascent to the throne as an orator.
The legend says that One day, Kush came sweating and worried to his grandfather Noah.
“What happened?” Noah asked
“I’m tortured by an awful dream that keep coming night after night,” King Kush said.
“Tell me,” Noah said.
“In my dream,” Kush said, “I see Nimrod my son ascending on my throne. People come to him with their petitions, yet he can’t understand what they say. He talks to them, and they can’t comprehend him, And then…”
“Go on,” Noah said, “what do you see?”
“I see,” Kush said, “my son toppled from the throne, his crown broken to pieces…oh, it is awful!”
Kush turned to Noah: “Grandpa, what does it mean?”
Noah said: “it means that your son is not ready to rule over the people, The coat I’ve given him is not enough. You need to train him.”
“How?” Kush asked.
“Send your son to the rulers oof all the Seventy Nations, and let them host him and educate him with their own issues and problems. Warn him not to identify too much with each of them, since he would finally served as the leader oof all of them together. This way your dream would not come true.”
And so it was that for the next many years, Nimrod traveled through the Seventy Nations, and each ruler hosted him and trained him with its own problems and issues, trying to push him to its own side. Some even said to him “Let Us Rebel” against your father,” which is another meaning of his name Nimrod, let us rebel.
But Nimrod remembered Noah’s warning and remained loyal to his father, and when he returned home, he ascended on his father throne and became the famous, benevolent King Nimrod.
Nimrod was successful leader for he developed the art of listening to his subject’s hearts. He listened, then addressed them and solved them. He could read their hearts so well that each thought of him as belonging to his own nation.
The verse says about him at that stage –
“And the beginning of his kingdom was
Babylon, Erech Acad and Kalena. (10: 10)
All that changed when a new technology was invented, the making of strong bricks, as it says
“And as it came to pass, when they migrated from the east,
they found a valley in the land of Shinaar and settled there
and they said, man to his fellowman: Come, let us make bricks
and burn them to fire, and the bricks served them as stone,
and the clay was to them to burn. (11: 1-3)
Thus, making strong bricks changed the way they lived.
From isolated farms and wooden homes, they moved to towns and cities. Soon they built walls and towers, allowing masses of people to live together. Their sense of community expanded.
Then they said to each other:
“Let us build for us a city and a tower with a top in the sky,
so that we would make a name for ourselves lest we scatter
all over Earth.” (11: 4)
The words “Let us built for ourselves” refers to their new, expanded perception of OWNERSHIP, from farms to real estate and buildings..
And in their words: “Let us make names for ourselves” they expressed their personal goals in the Tower project: to own a share in it, to grow in power and social status along with the Tower.
What happened? Back in the farm, they had no social status. On a building project, they learned the power of the ORGANIZATION.
They were thrilled to become members of a team, organize to achieve goals that otherwise they would never achieve alone.
And as the buildings grew taller, so did the teams became larger and larger, sometimes occupying hundreds or even thousands of workers.
A new thing – human hierarchy was introduced to the projects. On the farms, everyone had the same low status. On the project you could be recognized according to your RANK.
Their words “Let us make a name for ourselves,” means “let us get higher in rank, be recognized by our peers by our place in the organization.”
The idea of the Tower
King nimrod, the master of reading the human heart, saw what was happening around him, saw the changes induced by the new technology of bricks, and listened carefully to what they were saying to each other and he decided to not only support them but also to prompt them farther to build a huge Tower reaching the sky. He told them in his speeches that by coming together around him, they would achieve a goal that no other previous generation could even dream about.
The Tower was designed to be huge indeed. According to the Midrash its base was several square miles, and it would have taken several generations to accomplish. As they started, a whole new culture developed around the Tower: fathers followed by their sons, he sons followed by proud grandsons. The Tower toppled three times, each time only to start fresh. Indeed, when you work for your own name and your own ownership, there is no limit to your energy.
Moreover, they worked for their own names. As the Tower grew taller, some had their names on a corridor, some over an entire wing. The hierarchy was encoded on the walls, established forever.
There is a debate raging among the scholars as to what came first – the Pyramid building that SHAPPED society in its form, or the society structure that shaped the pyramid. Most scholars hold that the former idea is the truth, that the endeavor itself of building the pyramid actually shaped the Egyptian society.
Thus, as archeology shows, the workers on the Pyramid flocked there each year for several months, seeing it as a holy effort for the benefit of the society or G-d. They came on their own free will, not only to build but also to have a good food, excellent entertainment and rich cultural life. On the pyramid premises they met other young workers from all over, building in their mind a sense of one country, bullt like the pyramid – Pharaoh at the top, and the workers under him in different ranks. This way the pyramids entrenched the shape of the Egyptian society.
The same thing happened to Nimrod with his Tower. At first, the project was run by workers who had a direct access to Nimrod and could be affected by his oratorial incitement. Then, as the Tower grew taller, he relied on a chain of command to communicate with the workers. As the Tower grew even taller, his tatus became so remote that he was seen as a deity, a god. He became a remote tyrant without lifting a sword.
This is how he became a Mighty King Before YHVH, without an army or police, ruling only by his word.
The name Nimrod
Nimrod means “let us rebel.” During the project, the name assumed different meanings:
Let us rebel against nature – let’s build a Tower that would reach the sky – despite nature. Nimrod introduced a military language that incited zeal to the project. People said: “Let us conquer that corridor, that floor.”
Let us rebel against G-d –
against moral restrictions – for the sake of our project. This is based on the next verse:
“And YHVH descended to look at the city and the Tower –“(11-5).
Here the Attribute of Mercy was enraged. From what? The Midrash fills the gap. As the Tower grew taller, the danger of fatal accidents increased. So, when a worker fell from the tenth floor to the ground his fellow workers lamented the lost tools rather than the lost man. The Organization became heartless. Not unlike a modern corporation.
“(11:6) And YHVH said: behold, they are one people with one language for all, and this they begin to do! And now, should it not withheld from them all they have proposed to do? Come, let’s descend and there confuse their language, and they should not understand each other’s language.”
YHVH says that such a heartless enterprise can indeed be efficient and achieve whatever they wish to do. It can be successful, producing much wealth and power. Yet, if the cost is losing life or agony to the individual person, YHVH would intervene.
As a result, YHVH mixed their language, so that Nimrod verbal power of Communication broke apart. The workers could not understand Nimrod’s orders, and he could not comprehend their plight. THE AWEFUL DREAM OF KING KUSH BECAME TRUE. Nimrod was toppled along with his Tower, and the workers dispersed.
“And YHVH dispersed them from there over the face of the whole Earth and they stopped building the city.
That is why it is called Babel, because it was there that YHVH confused the languages of the whole Earth
and from there YHVH scattered them over the face of the Earth. (11:9)
What happened next, after the Tower was gone?
Nimrod Tower was abandoned, he lost his throne, but his memory and impact on human society has prevailed.
As the people dispersed, they developed their own social towers and organizations. Wishing to emulate Nimrod, the new rulers built their own pyramidal social structures. But instead of voluntary working force they built their towers on forced labor and SLAVERY. Noah’s Covenant was breached by armies invading other countries to grab land and manpower. A new way to get richer and more political power was discovered: build yourself an EMPIRE.
At that low point in history, ten generations after the Flood, while Noah was still alive, Abraham was born.