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In the past month, the U.S. has formed the biggest coalition of countries and people since the Tower was built about 3700 years ago. Today, something like 100 countries are more or less unified in a fight against terrorism. This correlation leads us to an examination of the coalition against the most prominent biblical example of coalition building, the coalition among the builders of the Tower.
This week we read the Torah portion of Noah. This dvar Torah is concerned with the second major theme of this Torah portion -- that of the Tower of Babel. In the past month, the U.S. has formed the biggest coalition of countries and people since the Tower was built about 3700 years ago. Today, something like 100 countries are more or less unified in a fight against terrorism. This correlation leads us to an examination of the coalition against the most prominent biblical example of coalition building, the coalition among the builders of the Tower.
In this week's portion, the Torah writes: "The whole earth was of one language and of one speech... And they said one to another: 'Come, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly.' And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said: 'Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, with its top in heaven, and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth."
In these few sentences the Torah lays the groundwork for the Tower of Babel. And what is the result of the story? Hashem sees their work, and then comes down from heaven, mixes up their languages and disperses them across the face of the earth. With the Tower of Babel, Hashem creates the nations of the world.
Today, the US is trying to tie those nations back together. Does the Torah portion shed any light on how successful this effort will be?
The builders were seeking to build a tower that would reach heaven so that they could make a name for themselves. The oral tradition tells us that they were trying to challenge G-d, but the Torah never states that. In the Torah, they are trying to make a name for themselves.
These people are of one language and one speech - it is as if they are completely unified. But they aren't completely unified. They aren't of one soul, or one spirit, or one mind. They are simply of one speech - and speech is very external. They all talk the same talk, but they don't necessarily walk the same walk. How do they go about making their tower?
The Torah doesn't say they used brick and slime to build a Tower. The Torah says they used brick for stone and slime for mortar. Every brick in the Tower was flawed. Every brick, a manmade creation, was a substitute for a stone, a creation of Hashem. And instead of using mankind's creation of mortar to hold the bricks together they use Hashem's creation of slime. Finally, the builders of the Tower are driven by a desire to make a name for themselves 'so that they would not be scattered abroad upon the face of the earth'. How are making a name and not being scattered related? Being of one speech, but not of one mind, they know that without a shared ambition they can't hold themselves together. They can't stay unified. And so they identify an ambition all men share on some level - to make a name for themselves. Of course, this is a ridiculous way to unify a group of people. In order to make a name, a person has to become more noticeable than those around him. In order for the builders to make a name for themselves they would have to compete with each other for attention - they could not succeed as group. They could never be unified.
Obviously, the builders of the Tower suffer from a few problems. They seem to be unified, but in fact they are only unified in speech. They seem to be building a strong tower - but they use bricks, their own creations, instead of stones, Hashem's creations. Where they should have used mankind's creation, mortar - they instead used Hashem's slime. Finally, they are unified by a desire to make a name for themselves - this desire can never lead to real unity.
The current coalition suffers from many of the same problems the builders faced. The nations of the world are barely of one speech. They are certainly not of one mind. They all speak against terrorism, but many of those speaking still practice it. The coalition substitutes manmade compromises (bricks) for Hashem's concept of goodness and holiness (stones). And where they should use mankind's creations, the societal creations of freedom and liberty, to join together the coalition -- many of the coalitions members are only members because of a fear of being on the losing side.
Today's coalition does have one fundamental advantage. The Tower builders stated that they wanted to make a name for themselves. The stated purpose of the US coalition is to wipe out terrorism. The second of these purposes does not necessitate the complete disintegration of the coalition. Furthermore, while the purpose behind the Tower builder's efforts was bad, or at best neutral, the purpose of today's coalition is good. This purpose may provide the strength needed for today's coalition to successfully build its tower.
Mankind working together towards a single goal is a tremendous and powerful concept. It would seem that the builders of the Tower had accomplished one of the great feats of human history -- uniting mankind for a single purpose. However, they in fact failed. They failed because they weren't unified and they failed because the ideas behind their Tower -- their bricks and their slime -- were poor substitutes for the stone and mortar they should have been using. Finally, they failed because the concept behind their tower was fundamentally flawed.
Today's coalition suffers from many of the same problems as its older neighbor. Today, we are learning to separate people from their governments -- the Afghani from the Taliban, the civilian from the government and the military. There is a flip side to this lesson. While the coalition of governments may be too broad to hold itself together, while it may be built of bricks and slime, that doesn't mean the coalition of man has to be.
Indeed, each of us can form bonds with others. We can succeed where the Tower failed by stressing the ideals of holiness and goodness and by building and supporting free and liberated societies where individuals can strengthen these ideals. As good as they are, our leaders can't maintain a coalition with two-faced and evil men -- even if, for now, they are all speaking the same language.
Post-Sept 11 is no different from pre-Sept 11. As it has been since the creation of mankind, every man, woman and child must take part in the effort to overwhelm evil and supplant it with good. To succeed, we must be unified in more than speech. To succeed, we must use the ideals supplied by Hashem and the tools created and derived by man.
The war between the good, and the absence of good, has been taking place for thousands of years. To ultimately win we must not compromise with that which is evil - in ourselves, in our societies or in others.