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Torah reading:  Genesis 6:9 through chapter 11.
Haftarah reading:  Isaiah 54:1 - 55:5.

The majority of this week's Torah reading is devoted to the story of Noah, the flood and the ark. Genesis 6:9 through chapter 8.  (Hence the name of the reading - Noach, or, in English, Noah. After Noah and his family and what is left of the world dry out, God imparts to Noah the Seven Laws of Noah, basic laws of morality that the Rabbis decreed were incumbant upon all human beings who are not Jewish. Genesis 9: 1-7.  For the balance of chapter 9, Noah gets drunk and, when he wakes up and recovers from his hangover, curses his youngest son for mocking him while inebriated.  Chapter 10 is another long list of "begots,"  and then we arrive at the story of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11: 11-9):

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.

As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar.

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building.

The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.

Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.

That is why it was called Babel — because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

The story is enigmatic.  What are the people doing that makes an all-powerful God so upset? There is no danger of a tower reaching to heaven and threatening God; since skyscrapers supported by steel frames and elevators were invented in the late 19th century, we have built skyscrapers far taller than the Tower of Babel could possibly have been, with no threat to God.

In the Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer, compiled during the latter period of the compilation of the Talmud or within a few centuries thereafter, we read (at page 24):

If a person were to fall and die, no one would notice him; but if even a single brick were to fall, they would sit and cry, "Woe unto us, for when will another brick be brought up in its stead."
What were the rabbis trying to say?  

Were the ancient Mesopotamians living under some sort of communistic, anarchic system, where thousands somehow decided to build this tower and then they worked together to build it?  And they were so devoted to this construction project that they cared nothing for their own lives, they were willing to fall to their deaths lest a single brick fall and shatter?

Or, was there a king, and an elite, that enslaved their population and forced slaves to build the tower.  Or did they pay their people to build the tower, but cared so little for their workers that they cried when a brick fell, but didn't care when a worker fell to his death?

To me, the idea of bottom up, worker driven project, is hard to imagine, the latter scenario, with slave or paid labor, seems much more likely.  And that leads up to the link that binds the ancient Mesopotamian elite to today's economic elite and the Republican politicians who do their bidding.

The infamous video of Mitt Romney speaking to his multi-millionaire donors includes a statement where, in my mind, he unites with the ancient Mesopotamian 1% and supports the bricks over the workers:

For so much of our history the economic elite have valued their bricks more than their workers. Even a child was valued less than a brick.  The Ayn Rand ideologues who justify the greed of so much of the 1% would destroy the protections and gains workers have achieved through struggle, since the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911.  So much depends on this election.  We must not be reduced to industrial slaves building a new Tower of Babel.  Any human being is infinitely more valuable than a brick.

Shabbat Shalom.

Originally posted to Elders of Zion on Fri Oct 19, 2012 at 01:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (13+ / 0-)

    "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

    by Navy Vet Terp on Fri Oct 19, 2012 at 01:00:04 PM PDT

  •  The reduction of the value of human life... (6+ / 0-)

    seems to be a standard ploy of the right wing to me.

    Of course it's couched in such terms as "Freedom" and "Right to Work" but the truth is that they are pushing as hard as they can to make each life so cheap that they can be replaced faster than the bricks of the society.

    Hence the hatred for birth control, education, science, etc.  All of those things are born of knowledge and raise the value of the human life.

    I almost personally would view the allegory of the tower of babel as a tower of lies that was shattered.  A tower of propaganda and false assumptions that shattered into a thousand shards of new opportunities.

    Course I'm also an optimist.

    I don't blame Christians. I blame Stupid. Which sadly is a much more popular religion these days.

    by detroitmechworks on Fri Oct 19, 2012 at 01:12:31 PM PDT

    •  Yes (3+ / 0-)

      The surest way to improve the economics and quality of life in poor countries (India, for example) is to educate its girls.  Educated girls marry later, have fewer children, and live longer as well as adding to a country's economy.

      The problem of course is that this individuates girls and women.  Hence the attacks on girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan who attend school.

      According to a Mesopatamian creation story, man was created precisely to build the ziggurat to the gods, to serve the gods.  Until then, there was no need for human beings.

      Republicans want to make government small enough to fit in your vagina..

      by ramara on Fri Oct 19, 2012 at 04:19:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Tipped, rec'd and will be discussed, thanx nt (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Navy Vet Terp, blueyedace2

    "Are you bluish? You don't look bluish," attributed to poet Roger Joseph McGough, for the Beatles' Yellow Submarine (1968).

    by BlueStateRedhead on Fri Oct 19, 2012 at 01:18:28 PM PDT

  •  I do a little different take on Babbling. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Old Iowa Liberal, Navy Vet Terp

    When everyone is the same --- they can be mislead by one good set of propaganda.  

    You have to listen more carefully, pay closer attention to actual meanings, when translating.  It takes nuance.

    Theocracy is one result of total sameness.   Jews get in trouble over time because they can't be sucked in by political myths fomented by their rulers and spread thru weekly propaganda sesssions during worship --- whether in protestant, catholic, or muslim controlled theocracies.

    So Jews end up being the little boy who exposes the lies and liars in "The Emperor's New Clothes."    

    * Or our deity loves variety in all things.

    * Or, the interpretation I grew up with was that the zigurat (sp?) being built was a place of worship.  Prideful human showoffs were making this "high place" --- to show off.  And IIRC -- they had already been warned not to worship in "high places."    

    That's what I think of when I see mega-churches/temples/mosques.

    De fund + de bunk = de EXIT--->>>>>

    by Neon Mama on Fri Oct 19, 2012 at 05:39:31 PM PDT

  •  Human pride... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Neon Mama, Navy Vet Terp

    I like the Rabbis take on this story, which I always took to be about human pride, though parts of the story seem puzzling in this context. Either way, building your wealth on the backs of child or other underpaid and undervalued labor, or thinking that your group is so great that it can call all the shots -- is not the way humankind is intended to be.

  •  Very nice. (0+ / 0-)

    I've been hearing different interpretations of the sin of Babel for most of my life, and this is one that's always appealed to me.

    The one problem I have with it is that it doesn't mesh well with another notion that I've always liked:  God punished the generation of the Flood more harshly than the generation of the Tower because the people of the Tower only sinned against Him, while the people of the Flood mistreated and abused their fellow humans.  If the sin of Babel was cruelty to the laborers, that doesn't work.

    On the other hand, one could make a case about lawless cruelty vs. institutionalized cruelty.  Hmmm.

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