Remembering the story of the Tower of Babel – what in the world was the big deal with wanting to build a high rise that can touch heaven? After the flood, man had again begun to multiply and fill the earth. They all spoke one language and understood one another well. If you look at the behavior of the generation of the days of Noach, sin was not readily apparent to the venture. Obviously, the building of a city and tower was against G-d’s will.
We read about His aborting the endeavor; however, the why is not obvious on the surface.
Today, in the city of Los Angeles, there are so many high rises. As you stand in between the buildings and look up, you wonder how much higher they could possibly go. Other than putting themselves and others in danger, calling it evil does not compute. Notwithstanding, there was a problem in the story of the Tower of Babel. There is always so much to learn from scripture. The more we seek – the greater the reward. In this case, it was in the people’s motivation for wanting to build this high rise. The Torah tells us that the intent of the construction was to “make for themselves a name.” The people feared being scattered throughout the world, and so they built a city in which they could live together. They were building a high tower so that even those in remote areas could see the city and they planned on watchmen to be posted to see that no enemies would be able to enter the city. Hmm, so far it does not seem to warrant a divine intervention. Nevertheless, the problem was that the people were building with one goal in mind: it was a “me, myself, and I” motive.
There is a fundamental difficulty which is so simple it becomes complex: when we think only of ourselves, it means we have stopped looking for a higher purpose in life. When our welfare becomes our only purpose in life, we have lost sight of G-d’s will for our life. When I stop being concerned about your justice, safety, provision and health, I have lost the higher station in my life.
DISCOVERING THE REAL INTENT
The lesson is obvious as we allow it to unfold in our mind. Building a city and a tower with no other intent than what is in it for self will not accomplish our higher purpose. Somehow, this generation had lost sight of its higher purpose. They decided to build a tower which was to reach to heaven, to make them equal to G-d, and at the same time, to make it possible for them to stay together. This symbol of their divine strength, as they thought, was to be built with great intellectual prowess. They began to think of only themselves. Perhaps it was the natural disaster of the flood and its consequences, perhaps it was the economy, unemployment, local crime, or terrorism that struck a chord that said: “We are all that matters”. Let’s build something that will cater to our needs and indulge greed and power. How sad to reach the end of our lives and realize all we did was take care of ourselves and build our own ego. How sad to realize that everything we worked for and all that we horded was all we accomplished.
Our Creator has given us a higher purpose and that purpose is accomplished in seeing beyond our own ego.
We work hard – we dedicate so much time to ourselves – and, of course, we want results! Certainly we work to eat; but, we build for higher purpose. If our building in life is only for ourselves, we have lost sight. We have lost vision.
In this story of the Tower of Babel, we realize that our Creator was disturbed with us and loved us to the point of thwarting our efforts to build. The higher purpose in vision begins with our hand extended to others. It is in times like this that in our quest to survive we can find ourselves selfishly thinking of only ourselves. In the immortal words of the famous first century sage Hillel: “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?…” In other words, I need to look after myself, for who else should or would? Nonetheless, he continues: “… if I am only for myself, then what am I?” Hillel tells me that when I’m taking care of myself so that I might fulfill my responsibilities, that is acceptable. But, when I’m looking out for myself because I’m the center of the universe, then we have a problem. We are building ineffectively because we have lost sight of higher purpose.
The problem does not lie in us looking after ourselves and our family. The problem arises when we can’t see a purpose beyond ourselves. Albert Einstein said: “A person starts to live when he can live outside himself. A human being is a part of a whole – called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings as something separated from the rest … a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
A TIME TO EMBRACE OUR HIGHER PURPOSE
This writer believes that because our purpose is so important to our Creator, there are special windows of opportunities in time that can get us closer to our higher purpose. These windows of opportunity come when life presents situations outside of ourselves and when we are confronted with knowing the needs of others and/or our needs as a community. This is one of those seasons for the planet and it is as though all of heaven is watching in anticipation to see what G-d’s creation will do.
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