The Torah describes two events that fundamentally reshaped the human condition, the Flood and the Tower of Babel. The breakdown in society that lead to the flood that laid waste to the world G-D created. Rashi ZT’L ZY’A commenting on 6:13 points out there were rampant sexual perversion , idolatry and theft. Rabbi Joseph Dov Solavechik the Beit HaLevi ZT’L ZY’A emphasized the abandonment of moral restraint was so prevalent that animals and even plant life were influenced by human behavior. Society further deteriorated through theft to the point it could no longer continue. Imagine a society so corrupt was beyond redemption.
However the Tower of Babel when humanity was spread over the Earth (Bereshith 11:1-9) the only inkling scripture gives of D-vine displeasure is 11:5-6. G-D took notice of what was going on and reacted by saying “ . . . [T]hey are one people with a single language, and this is what they choose to do?! . . . .” G-D concludes by pledging to frustrate their plans. Again, form the text itself G-D’s reaction is puzzling.. Humanity came together in unity sharing a common language and vision; To build a city with a tower reaching the heavens lest the people become scattered (see 11:4).
What could be objectionable about this agenda? Everyone learned to set aside their differences. Everyone spoke the same language everyone could communicate with one another. Yet, it would seem from G-D’s reaction, the shared vision of a unified humanity was an opportunity squandered and misused.
While scripture is unclear what exactly displeased G-D the text supports some hints that explain what went wrong.
Targum Yonatan Ben Uziel translates the single language was Hebrew, the language of creation. Rabbi Yitzchak Luria ZT’L ZY’A explains the shared language was more than mere linguistics. What this generation shared was the knowledge how to control the flow of D-vine energy through manipulating the combinations of the Hebrew letters. Knowing how deeply connected G-D is with His world would be a source of inspiration for a profound sense of gratitude.
However, in light of Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch ZT’L ZY’A’s commentary notes those gathered in Shinor were seeking to establish a new world order, breaking with their past. The plan to come together as a united community was to the end of building a monument to their own abilities. Building in a place were the only materials available require human manufacture as well as an underlying understanding that society is, each individual to stand with each other to mutually complement, nourish and care for each other But not in context of shared status of G-D’s handiwork but rather the city and tower were established “ . . .to make a name for ourselves . . . .” The city and tower project at Shinor would be dramatic and instead of evoking humility, see what people can do with their G-D given abilities the project was intended to proclaim ”Look at what we did by ourselves as a memorial for all who come after us!”
The pride in accomplishment .humanity would enjoy if the city and tower were built would breed an unhealthy arrogance which is compounded when considering these folks knew how deeply connected G-D was with His creation. More than a tribute to human endeavor the city and tower represented on some subtle level defiance and rejection of
However, the city and tower never made it past the planning stage. Therefore, the concerns raised by Rabbi Hirsch had yet to come to fruition. The Ohr HaChaim ZT’L ZY’A commenting on 11:1 notes the notion of concentrating humanity in place ran contrary to G-D’s design. G-D’s vision for a post Gan Eden world would be that Humanity inhabit ne third of the world’s surface. The one third is not contiguous but between population centers the regularly traversed routes joining them. The Ohr HaChaim further explains the agreement between humanity at Shinor represents a consolidation of power and control that would influence people living far from Shinor via the signals cast from the tower. The Ohr HaChaim’s comments may be understood in light of what Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Schriber-Sofer, the Katav Sofer ZT’L ZY’A observed. G-D’s concern was that a circumstance could arise where justice should require humanity’s annihilation therefore if the world’s population was spread out a nation could be punished without disturbing other peoples.
The lesson that arises from the Rabbis’ teachings is that in the aftermath of the flood G-D only wishes good for His creation. G-D took the effort to undo the plans of those gathered in Shinor even before they got off the ground so that a potential agenda of heresy could be avoided. Further in exchange of a convergence that had the latent seeds of apostasy G-D arranged the dispersion of peoples across the globe. Consider how many different places people live. Humanity by being driven out of Shinor has enjoyed G-D’s blessing to transform the hostile to the hospitable. G-D’s design even when taking preemptive action to avoid sin, acts in a manner that underscores His profound love and compassion.