In this week’s parasha we learn about the דור הפלגה, the Generation of Dispersion. The commentators struggle to understand their sin. The simple reading of the verses does not give us any indication of rebellion against HaShem. Yet, the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 38:6) states that the people’s intention was to mount an attack on HaShem by building a city and a tower. Once the tower would be completed, they would hoist an idol to the top of the tower with a sword in its hand and the idol would engage HaShem in battle. Really now! The Medrash (Ibid 38:1) takes their nefarious plans one step further, stating that they also planned on placing supports for the heavens to prevent another flood. This sounds preposterous but the Medrash tells us what occurred. The Ramban cites the Medrash that states that the people of this generation were sons of Adam HaRishon, and the Ramban interprets the Medrash to mean that they were קוצץ בנטיעות, literally translated as cutting down branches, similar to the sin of Adam HaRishon eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad. This is clearly a Kabbalistic teaching, but it offers us insight into how far the people were willing to go to defy HaShem’s dominion.
On a practical level, however, we can suggest that the people’s approach was similar to the modern day forms of entertainment, where people get caught up in the idolization of celebrities and sporting events. Like the Tower of Bavel, where everyone was certainly cheering for the winning team down on earth, in modern times people often take their infatuations to heart. The Medrash (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 24) states that if a person involved in building the Tower would fall and die, no one paid attention, but if a brick fell, they would cry and say, “when will we able to replace the fallen brick with another?” In our times, people discuss and debate endlessly what will be the outcome of a major sporting event or similar ideas. While apparently nothing is gained or lost from these discussions, the truth is that the loss is profound. HaShem created man, and even more so the Jewish People, with the purpose of placing all their energies into serving HaShem with all their faculties. Fun and relaxation are only maidservants to Torah study and mitzvah observance.
The Medrash tells us that the people building the Tower were fiercely united in their mission. Can there be a greater expression of unity than more than fifty thousand people yelling their lungs out at a sporting event? Yet, when people lose themselves and begin to forget about their purpose here on earth, the sword in hand ready to engage HaShem in battle is not so distant. We must remember that every episode that is recorded in the Torah is here for is to glean lessons. Unity, yes, but unity for the right purpose in serving HaShem.
I once heard Rabbi Zev Leff, Shlita, comment on the luxurious lifestyles that some Jews lead in America. Rabbi Leff said, “HaShem sent us into exile as a punishment and atonement for our sins, and now we’re exploring the גלות?
Let those words suffice to bring us back to the service of HaShem, and in that merit HaShem will have compassion on us and redeem us from this long and bitter exile,with the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, speedily, in our days.
Have a DOWN TO EARTH and HEAVENWARD ASPIRATIONAL Shabbos!
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Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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