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Look Back to Move Forward: What the Tower of Babel teaches us about strong foundations

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The Chief Rabbi’s D’var Torah for Parshat Noach.



What is the difference between a good builder and a poor builder? In this week’s parsha of Noach, the Torah reveals to us details of a catastrophic building project. It was the attempt to construct Migdal Bavel – the Tower of Babel.

How could the people living at that time get it so wrong? Why didn’t they learn the lessons of the flood which had preceded them?

I believe that the key to understanding this can be derived from a well known verse in this week’s Haftarah. The prophet Isiah describes a time of great blessing for our people which includes:

“V’chol banayich limudei Hashem v’rav shalom banayich,”

“And all your children shall be taught about Hashem and great shall be the peace of your children.”

Chazal, our sages, famously say,

“Al tikri banayich eileh bonayich.”

“Don’t read, “banayich” – “your children.” Instead read, “bonayich” – “your builders.”

Their message is clear. Our children are the builders of our future.

In the construction industry it is well known how critically important the foundation of a building is. If one wishes to construct a strong and steady edifice it must be built upon a solid foundation and that’s the message that we wish to impart to our children and grandchildren, the builders of our future: Please don’t just look upwards in terms of the height of the building that you want to construct. Also look downwards, dig deep into our past, appreciate your roots and guarantee that what you build for our future is constructed on the strongest possible foundations of trust and faith in God.

That was the mistake that the ‘generation of the dispersion’ made. They declared,

“Hava nivne lanu ir umigdal v’rosho b’shamayim.”

“Come, let us build a city and a tower the top of which will be in the heavens.”

They only looked upwards. They didn’t look downwards.

They declared, “V’naaseh lanu shem,” –  “Let us make a name for ourselves.” They put trust in themselves. They put their faith in that building to protect them, instead of looking downwards to see the foundations of faith that the building should have been constructed upon. They didn’t remember the lessons from the flood.

Therefore the eternally true message emerging out of this epic passage for us is that as a people, the more we want to move forward, the more we need to look back. And the higher we wish to reach in terms of our attainment, the deeper we need to dig in order to discover our glorious heritage which provides the greatest possible foundations upon which we can build a great future.

Shabbat shalom.

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