The sages wisely noted in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1) that a truly wealthy person is one who is happy with his/her lot. Alas, dissatisfaction and the sense of being entitled to something more has frequently been the source of conflict throughout time. One might go back as far as the Tower of Babel to see the tragic results of territorialism.

Although the story of the Tower of Babel is commonly known, most people know it only superficially: The people of Babel banded together to build a tower with the intention of overthrowing God. God’s reaction was to confound the languages of the people, resulting in the destruction of the tower and the dispersion of the people.

There is, however, more to the story. The generation of the tower was the generation after the flood, and they were uniquely unified. Thus it is noted that “the whole earth was of one language and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east…” (Genesis 11:1-2). It almost sounds like a utopian dream: the people of the world unified! They established cities wherever they chose, without any resistance or conflict.

So why did these people choose to wage war against God?

The Midrash states that when the people decided “Let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (11:4), they were, in fact, rising up against God, and saying: “He has no right to choose the celestial spheres for Himself and to assign to us the terrestrial world!” (Genesis Rabbah 38:6).

The generation of the Tower was not satisfied with what they had, even though they had everything. So, they decided that they deserved access to the heavens as well as all of the earth.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *