…וְיָקְטָן יָלַד, אֶת …-חֲצַרְמָוֶת.
And Yaktan sired … Hatzarmavet (Genesis 10:26)
Rashi: According to Aggadah (Bereishit Rabbah) after the name of his location.
A century ago the global game was imperialism; there were the Ottoman, British, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian empires. In our time the game is unification: The United States, the UN, the Arab League, The European Union.
The difference between the two is simple. Empires are the forcing of the will of a single nation over other, less powerful nations. Unification is the willing participation of different nations or states in an effort at unity and shared purpose.
From my perspective unification is infinitely more dangerous. Has there ever been a more corrupt, mendacious, resource-wasting, unbalanced organization than the UN? Having been established with the best of intentions, it has degenerated to where today – under the guise of unity, democracy and fairness – it has become the chief instigator of pernicious injustices, and provides an umbrella of legitimacy for the most inexcusable and oppressive regimes.
Can anyone be blind to the very raison d’etre of the Arab League, an organization whose overriding obsession since its inception has been the undoing of the State of Israel? Can one point to a single program or project undertaken by this unifying “League” to enhance the quality of life, health, education and welfare of Arabs anywhere?
And now there is the European Union, a seemingly benign attempt to dilute the identity of Europe’s various nation states in order to foster greater democracy and economic fairness. The EU is the result of an apparently benign post-nationalist desire to level the global playing field. Here the intentions seem good, even as they pave the road to hell, leading to the predictable day when Europe will have good-willed its way to oblivion under a yoke of murderous Islamic totalitarianism and a renaissance of internecine horrors.
For make no mistake, the Muslim demographic invasion of Europe is not something apart from European unification. Rather, it is a result of the same enlightened thinking: “Alle menschen wurden Bruder”, all people are brothers; there are no better or worse people, no superior or inferior cultures. We are all G-d’s children … except that for the politically correct there really is no G-d.
Even the United States, the first unifying amalgamation under the banner of freedom, has democratized itself to the point where its protective walls have been breached, and the nefarious, malignant and irreversible invasion is underway – all fully sanctioned by a delusional belief in the good intentions of all peoples.
With all this circle-dancing of unification, the world has become a vastly more dangerous place. This liberal, well-intentioned “Alle Menschen wurden Bruder” thinking inevitably results in a political correctness that, at its best, ignores real and present dangers and, at its worst, endorses and supports them.
Yes, it runs counter to our intelligence to believe that cooperation and unity between disparate ethnic, political and linguistic groups is dangerous. But it does not run counter to our instincts. And the empirical evidence is clear – unifying/cooperative efforts have brought our world to the brink of doom, and it will take a miracle to turn the clock back.
This, I believe is the message of the story of the Tower of Babel which appears in this weeks Torah reading, Parshat Noah.
At first glance, the inclusion of this story in the Torah makes no sense. For traditional Jews, the Torah is not a history book – its primary importance is legal, didactic and exegetical. Which begs the question as to why the story of the Tower of Babel is included altogether.
The existence of many languages is a given. Indeed earlier verses in this very Parsha mention the diversity of languages. In Genesis 10:5 we read; מֵאֵלֶּה נִפְרְדוּ אִיֵּי הַגּוֹיִם, בְּאַרְצֹתָם, אִישׁ, לִלְשֹׁנוֹ–לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם, בְּגוֹיֵהֶם.“From these, the islands of the nations separated in their lands, each one to his language, according to their families, in their nations.”
Clearly the Babel story itself – whether actual or mythical – must contain a message for the generations.
וַיְהִי כָל-הָאָרֶץ, שָׂפָה אֶחָת, וּדְבָרִים, אֲחָדִים(11:1) / And the land was of one language and ‘devarim ahadim’ (which means ‘singular words’, but could/should be read as ‘unifying words’)
(11:4) וַיֹּאמְרוּ הָבָה נִבְנֶה-לָּנוּ עִיר, וּמִגְדָּל וְרֹאשׁוֹ בַשָּׁמַיִם, וְנַעֲשֶׂה-לָּנוּ, שֵׁם: פֶּן-נָפוּץ, עַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָאָרֶץ. / And they said, “Come, let us build for us a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make ourselves a name (reputation), lest we become scattered across the face of entire land.”
(11:6) וַיֹּאמֶר יְ-הוָה, הֵן עַם אֶחָד וְשָׂפָה אַחַת לְכֻלָּם, וְזֶה, הַחִלָּם לַעֲשׂוֹת; וְעַתָּה לֹא-יִבָּצֵר מֵהֶם, כֹּל אֲשֶׁר יָזְמוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת / And the Lord said; Lo one people who have one language, and this is what they have commenced to do, ועתה לא יתבצר מהם כל אשר יזמו לעשות.
The latter part of this verse is generally understood (according to Rashi) as questioning: ie. Now will it not be withheld (יתבצר) from them all that they have planned to do?
I would respectfully suggest another reading of this verse entirely.
The conventional understanding of the Babel story is that the people who settled in the land of Shinar (verse 2) were defying G-d. Their purpose in constructing the ziggurat known to us as the Tower of Babel was an attempt to reach G-d in the heavens and challenge His dominion.
Can this possibly explain why G-d sowed discord through a babel of languages? Was G-d threatened by this challenge? Did He need to nip the project in the bud lest the people actually achieve such a goal?
With Rashi’s understanding of the tale, the translation of the closing phrase of verse 6; “Now will it not be withheld (יתבצר) from them all that they have planned to do?” is necessary if somewhat forced.
I would suggest, however that ‘yibatzer’ (יתבצר) does not mean ‘withheld’, and this phrase is not a question but a statement – a statement by G-d describing how he is planning to rescue these people from a terrible fate – the inevitable destruction that is the result of too much ‘unity’.
The word ‘יתבצר is akin to the word ‘מבצר’ which means fortification. Hence, the verse is saying that a consequence of a single language and singular purpose would result in; “and now as a consequence (לא יתבצר מהם) they (the people of Shinar) will not be protected from them (i.e. outside enemies) by all that they (the people of Shinar) have planned to do”.
G-d understands that by creating the false sense of security that comes from the apparent unity and glory of a city and a tower, they are achieving the very opposite result – namely rendering themselves vulnerable to incursion by destructive outside forces.
Indeed the story must be understood in an entirely different way. It is hardly a negative reflection on the people who settled in Shinar. On the contrary:
As I see it, a large population of Noah’s varied descendants settled in Shinar. Relying on their intelligence and creativity, they decide to build a utopian society united by common language and culture; a society that would be centered in a strong city surrounding an awe-inspiring tower.
They believe that without this unity of purpose, without a shared language and culture, they would become vulnerable to outside forces and end up exiled and dispersed.
Human intelligence, when shared by people with decent intentions, inevitably leads to a benign vision of a world that is hardly benign; a vision whereby outsiders would be welcome to this utopian society, and would be so impressed with its culture and its architecture and its skyscrapers that they would only desire to become part of the noble vision, certainly not plot to destroy it.
And so, G-d saves the day by dividing the population of Shinar into a multiplicity of different cultures, each with its own language, precisely because it is this disunity that augurs best for human survival – contrary to what we might think with our brains.
By dividing the people through language, G-d replaces intelligence with instinct. Humankind develops an instant need to survive through the delicate balance between a limited and necessary unity on a small ethnic/tribal scale, and the disunity of humankind through the establishment of borders and distinct cultural identities.
Yes, there would be tensions, suspicions and occasional skirmishes, but these would be minor by comparison to the utter devastation that would result when a mighty, seemingly impregnable unified nation-state believes, naively, that everyone – even those who are not part of this society – are inherently benign and have good intentions. Because that is when the society becomes careless, and exposes its Achilles heel so that it can be easily toppled.
The flood of Parshat Noah did not cover the entire planet earth. It covered a large swath of what was the cradle of our civilization and the birthplace of monotheism.
G-d had other plans and uses for India, China and Japan (the Sinites referred to in Noah are likely not the Chinese) which not now or ever were centers of monotheism and belief in the one G-d.
“Eretz”, the land, referred to in Parshat Noah and in the story of the Tower of Babel has its perimeters defined trough the names of Noah’s progeny. On the one extreme we have Ashkenaz, which is central Europe. On the other extreme with have Hatzarmavet which the Midrash says is a place, which indeed it is. The utterly inhospitable end of Yemen in called Hadramaut (in Hebrew heder-mavet) which means the almost the same, i.e. courtyard of death. Few people dare enter this forbidding desert, and for most it seems like the very end of the earth.
The People who settle in Shinar believe they inhabit a safe world. They are either oblivious to the existence of alien nations or assume that these alien nations are benign. At the very least, these other nations would be so impressed by the Shinarian culture, economy, architecture and civilization, they would never think of causing any trouble.
Babel is happening today, in real time. A powerful United States of America can have its most visible symbol of global importance, the Twin Towers, leveled in minutes by a handful of savages. Does America learn its lesson? Hardly. Islam is labeled ‘a religion of peace’. Muslim immigration continues unabated. Millions of illegals surge across the US borders to the welcoming applause of an elitist chattering class.
US Presidents grovel and bow alternately to the monarch of aretrograde, oil-rich feudal state which has incubated global terror, and to the medieval Mullahs whose primary industry is international murder and mayhem.
America allowed a Muammar Gadaffi to remain in power decades after he had blown an American jetliner out of the sky, and now twiddles its thumbs as Iran goes nuclear. After all, “Alle Menschen wurden Bruder”, how bad can those folks really be?
Europe has its head even deeper in the ground than America. It is hell bent – in its fever of politically correct post-nationalism – on unifying its disparate and historically un-fraternal nations. And the ‘enlightened’ Europeans convince themselves that Islamists are people, just like any other, who wish to join their melting pot and become like all other Europeans. After all, “Alle Menschen wurden Bruder”, how bad can those Muslim folks really be?
This suicidal political correctness is in lockstep with a G-dless belief in human intelligence. The instinct for survival is disappearing from the western DNA, as evidenced by the attempt to erase borders, language barriers, currency differences etc. — the very things that keep smaller nation states in a state of wary self-preservation.
In fact the only western nation state in which a majority still espouse the need for particularism. and even parochialism, is Israel. Because, at least the Jews who live here, have learned what international brotherhood inevitably leads to. Not all of us, but most.
Any wonder that Europe would love to see us disappear? Any wonder that we will be around long after they are done for?