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In the story of the Babel Tower (Gen 11) people are trying to build a tower to the skies. I assume they followed the assumption that the firmament is real (firm) and it divides between the Heavens and the Earth, and it actually can be reached.

As the Torah explains, their intention was to make Hishtadlus to prevent another catastrophe.

וַיֹּאמְרוּ הָבָה נִבְנֶה־לָּנוּ עִיר וּמִגְדָּל וְרֹאשׁוֹ בַשָּׁמַיִם וְנַעֲשֶׂה־לָּנוּ שֵׁם פֶּן־נָפוּץ עַל־פְּנֵי כָל־הָאָרֶץ׃

And they said, “Come, let us build us a city, and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for ourselves; else we shall be scattered all over the world.”

G-d that already promised not to bring another flood, doesn't like the idea and decides to disperse them all over the world (or whatever):

and the LORD said, “...then nothing that they may propose to do will be out of their reach" ...
Thus the LORD scattered them from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city.

What was wrong with their intention and why G-d didn't like humanity's effort to finally build something monumental?

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Babel, a New Society?

The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1–8) was an attempt to reach heaven by the Babylonians. The Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 109a explains as follows: “Let us go up to the heavens and dwell there,” and Let us ascend and wage war against G-d.” They also said, “Let us ascend to heaven and worship our idols.”

Talmud (Sandhedrin 109a) says that they attempted to reach the heavens in order to pierce it and drain the waters from the heavens in order to prevent another drainage. A Midrash says they felt the heavens would collapse annually, a natural occurrence. Frankly, I don’t see how this wouldn’t cause another deluge.

The Targum Yerushalmi explains that the tower was to be a platform from which to battle G-d. Additionally, the tower’s top would depict a man with a sword drawn, symbolically declaring war against G-d. Others did it for idol worship, the tallest shrine.

Rabbeinu Bachya said they built it as a settlement. They wanted civilization to settle in view of the tower which was an affront against G-d’s plan to be fruitful and multiply. But how does this interrupt our relationship with animals, though?

The relationship with animals

In the Torah, Noah is told that “the fear of you and dread of you will be upon all the beasts of the earth, upon all the birds of the heaven, upon all crawling things, upon all the fish of the sea—they are delivered into your hands.” It seems that after the flood, the relationship between humans and animals changed. Noah was granted permission to eat meat (Genesis 9:3), Adam was only permitted to eat vegetation (Rashi on Genesis 9:3 and Genesis 1:24). They are told to "subdue” the earth and “have dominion over” it.

Nowadays, Israel has a holiday on the seventh day of the month of Shevat “Animal Rights Day,” which is a day to respect animals, for they too have feelings. This is the 7th law of Noah.

Was the story of the tower of Babel literally?

Is it possible that people really felt they could reach heaven? Could this be another example of hyperbole? A parable. It is not a literal story since the tower of Babel “reached into the heaven” is not understood literally. Some historians think it was possible for the tower to reach the height as described in the Bible. Nevertheless, they strived against G-d's command. Genesis 1:28 tells us that G-d commands us to replenish the earth. Abraham Ibn Ezra felt that the builders wanted to rebel against this command. Rabbi Samson R. Hirsch felt it was a community, not for a spiritual purpose though. Thus G-d punishes them with “confusion of speech” (Genesis 11:9). But this barrier, the inability to communicate with a different language provided much societal alienation. It makes for linguistic and cultural diversity or, is it possible that G-d never punished them. Perhaps the confusion of languages was the natural result of their behavior? Perhaps it is wrong to have “one language and one way of speaking.”

Historians think differences in languages are a result of different cultures. People came from Africa and spread around the globe, each with his own unique language and culture. Nevertheless, will the day arrive when the world reverts to “one language and one speech” and people stop erecting Towers of Babels? The prophet Zephaniah says, “a pure language that they may all call upon the name of G-d to serve Him unitedly” (Zephaniah 3:9).

All things considered, it seems that the generation of the Tower of Babel were not punished in the same way Noah's generation was punished. G-d leniency stemmed them because their society was relatively peaceful compared to Noah's generation which was full of violence and corruptness. Perhaps language diversity is a good.

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Ralbag offers an interesting perspective on this topic:

The people wanted to build the tower for two reasons.

  1. To make a name for themselves by building a great tower, and to leave a memory of themselves.
  2. To help them not stray too far away. With a big tower they could always see it and calibrate their location, and be able to remain all together in the same area.

The issue that God had with this was that it would not be good for humanity if everyone lived in one place. When everyone is together, all it takes is one natural disaster in that one location to wipe out all of humanity. If, however, people spread out across the world, then even if there is a disaster in one area the people in the rest of the world will still survive, thus perpetuating the human race.

Therefore, God, in an act of Divine Providence, confounded the languages so that the people would move away from each other and spread across the world. This was not a punishment of any sort; rather, it was a beneficial intervention to save the world.

  • Where would I find his interpretation? – Yaakov Pinchas Nov 6 at 5:42
  • @YaakovPinchas His commentary on the Torah, at the end of Parshas Noach. – Alex Nov 6 at 12:20
  • Thank you. (here comes my regular stuff). Now, let me ask you seriously: if we have a situation describing 10 different phenomena and one asks for an explanation. And here comes Ralbag and offers an explanation for phenomenon A but totally contradicts/ignores all others. How do you think should we handle this "explanation"? What I mean by phenomena are numerous statements by Targumim, Midrashim, Gemmorah, interpreters, etc. – Al Berko Nov 6 at 13:53
  • @AlBerko I’m not sure I understand your objection. Your question seems to have ignored Midrashic interpretations of the event, focusing only on what the Torah actually says. Compared to other interpretations Ralbag’s fits the Torah’s description pretty well. – Alex Nov 6 at 23:23
  • I'm sorry, If we decide that everything goes (I asked a question on this) then this is fine. Here's my explanation: "they wanted to build a spaceship but G-d feared they will find out that all luminaries are just ordinary celestial bodies and undermined their enterprise". Do I consider it plausible - yes, but true - no. Why? Because it neglects/contradicts all already known phenomena/statements. And I believe that the truth is what explains all of them. Just like a scientific theory. – Al Berko Nov 7 at 14:43

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