0

"וַיֹּאמְר֞וּ אִ֣ישׁ אֶל־רֵעֵ֗הוּ הָ֚בָה נִלְבְּנָ֣ה לְבֵנִ֔ים וְנִשְׂרְפָ֖ה לִשְׂרֵפָ֑ה וַתְּהִ֨י לָהֶ֤ם הַלְּבֵנָה֙ לְאָ֔בֶן וְהַ֣חֵמָ֔ר הָיָ֥ה לָהֶ֖ם לַחֹֽמֶר׃"

They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them hard.”—Brick served them as stone, and bitumen served them as mortar. Genesis.11.3

Why is that important that the city and the Tower of Babylon were built with bricks?

  • Presumably so it would last?! Indeed the Chizkuni writes that the whole reason it was mixed with pitch was to make it waterproof. They wanted a lasting edifice which would in turn act as a solid reminder of their endeavour – Dov Oct 31 at 21:16
2

The Malbim seems to suggest that this represented a turning point in the development of construction and the like, in that the land was now regarded as being fit to support bricks to build on, which would in turn, allow them to keep building upwards:

ויאמרו. תחלה התחילו החדשות בבנות להם בתי חומה, תחת שעד עתה היו יושבי אהלים, ונזדמן להם אדמה ראויה ללבנים וגם לחומר אל הבנין, שבזה יעלו אצלם הבנינים בקל ובמעט עמל, וכבר היה זה נגד הרצון האלהי שרצה שבני אדם ימלאו את הארץ...

And they said - Initially they began their new buildings with that of walled houses, as until then, they had only lived in tents, but now there was an opportunity for them, where the land was fit for bricks and also materials for building, in which the buildings would rise with ease and little toil, and this was already against the will of G-d as He wanted humans to fill the earth...

This developmental change is also noted by Radak when he analyses the repetition of "נִלְבְּנָ֣ה לְבֵנִ֔ים":

נלבנה לבנים, תוספת ביאור, כמו (מלכים ב' י"ב) ויצום דוד צום, והדומה להם, וכן נשרפה לשרפה, ובאותו בקעה אין אבן לפיכך כל בנינם בלבנים והלבנים עושים אותם מן הטיט ואחר כן שורפים אותם בכבשן

נלבנה לבנים - the word נלבנה is a form of elaborating on something which had been said before, similar to Samuel II 12:16 "ויצם דוד צום" - “David fasted a fast.” If he fasted, he obviously observed a fast; the author wanted to lend extra emphasis to his words. So here too, the words "נלבנה לבנים", though an obvious part of building a city, were repeated merely for emphasis. The words נשרפה לשרפה, inform us that the valley lacked stones for building houses, but that there was clay which could be kiln burned and produce rain proof bricks, making it possible to build permanent homes.

| improve this answer | |
  • Very interesting, the problem is that you can't build tall structures with bricks. So those two look mutually exclusive - whether they wanted to build houses or a high tower. So neither interpreter addresses this point. – Al Berko Oct 31 at 22:39
  • What other materials could they have used in those days? – Dov Oct 31 at 23:04
  • THere are many houses in the Torah that mention no materials. THis tower specifically mentions bricks. Those are not extra strong and were pretty common all over the area. Why mention this fact? – Al Berko Oct 31 at 23:13
  • From the Malbim it would seem that they were not so common. They had all lived in tents up until this point. – Dov Oct 31 at 23:27
1

Rav Hirsch says that the whole point was to show that they were able to create the building materials themselves. That is, they were showing that everything was under their control. This was the reason that they spoke of וראשו בשמים. It was not that they expected to literally build a physical tower that was taller than the mountains, but that they were building to show that mankind ruled the universe.

They found a plain where all building material was lacking. There they wanted to remain, wanted to see if they could not make something by themselves, "let us make artificial man-made stones" (this lies in the הבא) And just as there was no material for burning to bake such a huge quantity of bricks, hence נשרפה לשרפה. Where, as here, the object is not mentioned, it means the most comprehensive generality: "let us burn whatever it is, whatever we can find". And so bricks served them for stones and what otherwise is only used as a binding material, as mortar, they used as a building material. Elsewhere one built with stone and cemented with clay. The stone was the חומר the building material, clay the mortar, both provided by Nature. But here bothe were artificailly man-made products, and what previously was חֵמָר they used for חוֹמֶר

| improve this answer | |

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .