Rabbi Dr Zvi Avin
The Tower-of-Babel’s Social Order
The story of the Tower oof Babel is located – in the flow of the Book of Genesis narrative – at the transition from Noah to Abraham. Since Noah’s stories and the Rainbow Covenant revolve around BLOODSHED, and the storis about Abraham revolve around THEFT (as we’ll see) it comes out that the Tower story is at the transition from Adam’s 3rd to the 4th.
And since THEFT on individual level was performed also in Noah’s time, the novelty of Abraham’s struggle is against ORGENIZED THEFT, conducted by armies and empires, introducing SLAVERY to the world.
As we’ll see, the story of the Tower tells us how Empires came to be and how the notion of OWNERSHIP corrupted to allow slavery.
There are many ways to read and explain the text. Here we’ll stick to the simple Hebrew meaning, shying away from mythical and esoteric interpretations that has no relevance to our modern life. We’ll use, however, some legendary material for illustration of several points.
So, let’s start.
The Seventy Families of Noahide Nations
After the Flood, mankind settled on Earth as it is said
“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 the term Children of Noah, or Bnei Noah, Noahides, is mentioned the first time 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 counts 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, the Angles formed a Heavenly Choir comprised of seventy Angles, that wakes up every morning and chants
“Holy, Holy, Holy, the Earth is full of His Glory!” (Isaiah 6:3).
We mention the choir here since it would play a role later in the story of Jacob’s wrestling with the Angle of Esau, after which his name was changed to Israel.
The Torah now introduces Nimrod, as a key figure behind the story of the Tower of Babel. On Nimrod it is said:
“And Kush begot Nimrod,
he was the first to be mighty on Earth.
He was a mighty hunter before YHVH .
Therefor it is sad 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 animals for killing. It refers, as the Midrash says, to hunting – attracting – people and animals by MOUTH. Nimrod was, in other words, a talented ORATOR. He ruled by his words, mouth, and the story is focusing on oral COMMUNIICATION.
The first reference of Nimrod as “mighty” – according to the Midrash – relates to his strong character. He had good control over his own ego and drives.
The second expression “a mighty hunter before YHVH” refers to his ability to hunt animals – not by his arrows – but rather by his mouth.
The legend explains how this could happen.
Nimrod was the son of Kush, Noah’s grandson from Ham. As the Seventy Nations were formed, Kush was their leader. (His name is engraved for posterity in the Kush’s Mountains near the Caspian Sea.) Kush begot Nimrod, besides other sons. But Nimrod stood out as an heir, due to his strong character, with the Torah calls “Mighty.”
So beloved and good was young Nimrod that Naama and Noah loved him more than any other great – grandson. At his birthday, they gave him a present – the miraculous dress of Adam and Eve.
We recall that before chasing Adam and Eve out of Eden, G-d gave them airy dresses by which they could understand and communicate with the animals. Years later, Adam gave the dress to Cain before he went to exile, to help him survive in the wood.
Then, after Tubal Cain killed Cain, the dress fell into the possession of Tubal’s sister, Naama. At the Flood, Naama and Noah used the dresses in the Ark to communicate with the animals.
Remember, the art of communication is at the core of the story of the Tower.
Now, as Nimrod was growing up, Naama and Noah gave the dress to him out of love. That gave him the power to communicate – even with animals.
Legend says that after that, people saw young Nimrod riding over lions and fling up in the sky over eagle’s wing. They called him the King of the Animals. This can explain Nimrod’s fascination of seeing earth from above. He wished that everyone would have the same experience – hence the Tower.
The second reference to Nimrod as a “mighty hunter before YHVH” pertains to his exceptional ability to read human hearts and COMMUNICATE with everyone. It is as if the dress empowered him also with the capacity to converse not only with animals but with people.
Thus, the Torah says next:
“The beginning of his kingdom
was Babylon, Erech Acad and Kalena. ((10: 10)
After the death of his father kush, Nimrod inherited his throne. At first, his kingdom was small. But soon that changed.
Peace on Earth
The Torah turns to describe Nimrod’s society:
“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 dwelled in peace. They spoke one language – Hebrew: they had one faith – keeping the Seven Commandments of Noah, and they had only one goal – prosperity.
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 food so they could trade. Trading became the most respected vocation. ‘Canaan’ means a trader. OWNERSHIP could change legally by selling and buying.
In time, each nation defined its border. A covenant was signed between the nations where all nations respected each other borders. The memory of that covenant lasted for years. For instance, when King Balak of Moab called Bilaam to curse Israel, he used this covenant to claim that Israel should not be allowed to cross over the Jordan River. They breach the Noahide Covenant! (see Rashi there)
Thus, we see that the first generations enjoyed peace, prosperity and brotherhood, something that our UN only aspires for the future
That tranquility changed once a new technology was introduced to Mankind, 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.
The Torah describes the stages that brought about the Tower.
First, the people discovered a new technology of making bricks. That changed the way they lived. Instead of living in isolated farms and wooden homes, they could build brick homes and villages and towns. Soon they built cities surrounded by walls. Their sense of community expanded.
The Torah says they told 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)
On the surface, there is nothing wrong with what they said. The words “Let us built for ourselves” refers to their perception of OWNERSHIP that expanded from farms and goods to real estate and building. That sense of OWNERSHIP is a good motive and drive to move economy and achieve things.
Also, the words “make names for ourselves” are in proper line of good motivation to work and achieve things. That motivation has made America great.
But these words elevated Nimrod to the status of a god. To understand what happened, we can use the Egyptian pyramids as an example.
In fact, the scholars argue whether the pyramid express the social structure of that time, depicting pharaoh at the top and the masses of workers bellow and at the bottom, according to their
O, the other way around, the building the pyramid created the pyramidal state. At first, workers flocked to the pyramidal project on their own free will, proud to join a prestigious and revered endeavor. On the working premises they enjoyed good food, good entertainment, and booming social life. There they met other young workers from all over, building in their mind a sense of one country. Working together they learnt the power of an organization, achieving goals they could have never reach alone. The organization installed in them the respect for strict hierarchy. and obedience to the rules. As the pyramids grew taller, so did the status of pharaoh in their minds.
That is what happened also at the Tower project. King Nimrod, so attentive to the human’s heart, paid a close attention to the worker’s words. They wished to build a Tower for themselves, for their names. So, as he had always done, he decided to answer their wish. He knew that by this, his status as a leader would only continue to grow. The project would not make a name for the workers, but also for himself. Moreover, he even added a higher twist: Let’s see Earth from above, as I’ve seen it.
The Tower was supposed to be huge indeed. According to the Midrash its base was several square miles, and it took several generations to accomplish. A whole culture developed around it; fathers followed by their sons. It toppled at least three times, only to start fresh. Indeed, when you work for your own name and your own ownership, there is no limit to your energy.
And like with the pyramids, as the Tower grew taller, so did Nimrod status did – in the eyes of the workers. After a while they hardly saw him, and the only way they perceived of him was through his instructions, commands, COMMUNICATIONAL SKILLS. After one or two generation he became a god-like figure, sitting on top of the Tower.
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 – we don’t need G-d. We can build for our self, something that belong to us, and let G-d stay out of it.
Let us rebel 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 e much wealth and power. Yet, if the cost is losing life or causing agony to the individual person, YHVH would intervene.
As a result, YHVH mixed their language, so that Nimrod verbal power of Communication broke apart.
“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’s power, the new rulers built their own pyramidal social structures. But instead of voluntary working force they built their towers on force labor and SLAVERY. Noah’s Covenant was breached and armies invaded other countries to grab land and manpower. The meaning of OWNERSHIP changed.
At that low point in history, ,ten generations after the Flood, while Noah was still alive, Abraham was born.