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If the point of migdal bavel was to reach the heavens, why not build it on a mountain instead of a valley?

וַיְהִי כָל הָאָרֶץ שָׂפָה אֶחָת וּדְבָרִים אֲחָדִים:(ב) וַיְהִי בְּנָסְעָם מִקֶּדֶם וַיִּמְצְאוּ בִקְעָה בְּאֶרֶץ שִׁנְעָר וַיֵּשְׁבוּ שָׁם:(ג) וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל רֵעֵהוּ הָבָה נִלְבְּנָה לְבֵנִים וְנִשְׂרְפָה לִשְׂרֵפָה וַתְּהִי לָהֶם הַלְּבֵנָה לְאָבֶן וְהַחֵמָר הָיָה לָהֶם לַחֹמֶר:(ד) וַיֹּאמְרוּ הָבָה נִבְנֶה לָּנוּ עִיר וּמִגְדָּל וְרֹאשׁוֹ בַשָּׁמַיִם וְנַעֲשֶׂה לָּנוּ שֵׁם פֶּן נָפוּץ עַל פְּנֵי כָל הָאָרֶץ

1) And the whole earth was of one language and of one speech. 2) And it came to pass, as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. 3) 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. 3) 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.'

Bereshis 11:1-4

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Piling onto @SethJ's point, they were using bricks as rocks and mortar as mud (end of v. 3), emphasizing the artificiality of the project, so maybe their intention was, in the same way, to use a tower as a mountain. –  Isaac Moses Oct 15 '12 at 21:18
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Pashut pshat would seem they used the valley as support for their tower –  sam Oct 15 '12 at 21:40
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Relative to where they were. Where was the closets mountain!?! –  Yehoshua Oct 15 '12 at 22:04
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Ummm...perhaps they were just building a tall tower. Consider the modern English: *Sky*​​​​​​​​​​​​​​scraper. Moreover, it just says they lived in the valley, not that they built it there. Basically the story is that they wanted the biggest tower so they'd be uber-cool, and God comes down and reminds them Who's boss. It's a Gaavah thing. –  Double AA Oct 15 '12 at 23:11
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I'm not sure I understand the question: they first settled in the plain, made bricks and mortar, and only then decided to build the city and tower. Why go looking for a mountain, or hill, when all they wanted was to make a "name" for themselves, lest they "be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth"? –  Tamir Evan Oct 16 '12 at 6:02
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5 Answers

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There was no intention to literally, physically reach the heavens. According to this shiur from Rabbi Ari Kahn this was a symbolic act of defiance (see the ibn ezra). Particularly striking was that the dead of the flood had collected in the land of Shinar and for them to deliberately choose that valley to build this tower meant that they were taking the "dust and dirt" of human remains to compose this edifice.

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There are some opinions that they did try to reach heavens, so the question would still stand according to them. –  Michoel Oct 19 '12 at 8:04
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Because it is difficult to build on a slope or narrow area. The valley allowed them space to build the "עִיר וּמִגְדָּל".

Source: None. Just my own thoughts.

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As I understand the real goal wasn't reach a heaven - no one thought that man can really fight hand-to-hand with G-d. I think, that that generation was like Philistines in the time of King David (they wanted to fight with G-d too). They just want to show that they don't need G-d, that they can made all what they need by thyself. So itwas supposed to be just a high tower as a symbol of the power of the people.

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Ishayahu, welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks very much for sharing this idea! If you could cite a source to back up the idea that they weren't literally trying to get to the altitude of Heaven, that would make this answer even more valuable. I look forward to seeing you around. –  Isaac Moses Oct 16 '12 at 14:14
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@IsaacMoses Since heaven doesn't have an altitude I would say the onus is on those who claim it is literal. –  Double AA Oct 16 '12 at 17:36
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@DoubleAA I'd say that either way would benefit from a source. IMO, it's quite likely that these people thought Heaven had an altitude they could reach (or at least, it seems like a reasonable enough possible inference from the text). –  Isaac Moses Oct 16 '12 at 17:39
    
@IsaacMoses Absolutely everyone should bring a source if possible. –  Double AA Oct 16 '12 at 21:11
    
I would be happy to add a source but I didn't read it by myself - it's from audio lesson of chief rabbai of Litva on Russian) So I don't think that I can "quote" it)) –  Ishayahu Oct 17 '12 at 5:23
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This question apears in a handwritten manuscript of the unabridged version of Pirush Hatur on the Torah (printed in Feldheim edition of Tur Ha'aruch on Torah pg. 59) who provides a fascinating answer: If they would have searched for the highest place to build the tower, they would have built it at the site of the Beis Hamikdosh - the highest point in the world per Sanhedrin 87a. However, Hashem did not want them to defile the holy spot and therefore swayed their hearts not to build it on a high place in order that they would not build it at that location. Based on this he explains the verses in Tehillim (118:2):

.אבן מאסו הבונים היתה לראש פנה. מאת יהוה היתה זאת היא נפלאת בעינינו
The stone that the builders rejected became a cornerstone. This was from the Lord; it is wondrous in our eyes.

"The builders" are a reference to the people who built the Tower of Bavel. They rejected what later became the site of the Beis Hamidkosh. This was Divinely orchestrated by Hashem, as is does not make logical sense - they should have rationally chosen a high place to build the tower, and it was only Hashem's intervention that caused them to do otherwise.

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Good find! I was already planning to pose the question at the Shabbat table; now I have a satisfying and sourced answer to go with it! –  Isaac Moses Oct 18 '12 at 14:08
    
If ha-Shem "swayed their hearts not to build it on a high place in order that they would not build it at that location", why not sway their hearts from building it at all? –  Tamir Evan Sep 4 '13 at 10:14
    
So why not build it on another high point? –  Shmuel Brin Mar 26 at 23:03
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The Pasuk mentions that the whole point of the tower was for the Bnei Bavel to make a name for themselves.(11:4) Additionally, when the Torah goes through the genealogy it mentions Nimrod as a Gibor Tzayid(10:9) and Rashi explains that he was good at convincing people to rebel against Hash-m. So Rabbi Storch explained that this means that he convinced the Dor Haflagah to try to rebel against Hash-m to show off humanity's greatness. Therefore, Simcha W. explained based on this idea, that they were being all the more arrogant by building the tower starting in a valley, because they were saying that that humanity was so great that they could build a great tower starting from even a valley.[Similar to how Hash-m sometimes makes Bnei Yisroel fight with like 200 people versus a whole nation in Navi to show that the victory was totally from him and to enhance the miracle]

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Uri, welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks for your answer. Googling finds me a few rabbis Storch (a R' Ari in Baltimore, a R' Shalom in Lakewood, and others); editing in which you refer to will help to clarify your source. Same for "Simcha W." (is that Rabbi Wasserman??). In any event, I hope you stick around and continue to contribute high-quality answers (and questions). Please consider registering your account, which will give you access to more of the site's features. –  msh210 Oct 6 '13 at 6:19
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