The biblical account of the Tower of Babel describes it as having a dizzying effect. This could have very well been an actuality. Based on modern day scientific analysis of the types of bricks used to construct buildings in ancient Babylon researchers believe they have come up with some groundbreaking new theories.
In a fractured society, how do we architect wholeness? It’s the question we turn to each year as we commemorate a Temple lost to baseless hatred. And it’s a question that, awfully, is urgently pressing today. If we’re to have a Temple again—or even if we want another go at real togetherness —we’ll need to dig deeper into that question. And the answer, I think, lies in biblical architecture.
The Torah describes two great building projects: the Tower of Babel and the Mishkan. One resulted in a shattered civilization, the other became the centerpiece of a thriving culture. In theory, the Temple was modeled after the Mishkan. In practice, the people of the Second Temple recreated Babel. To build the Third Temple, we need to discover the Mishkan once more.
Babel, Where Loftiness is a Threat
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Let’s start with Babel. The Tower of Babel is a literal monolith, made to preserve a monolithic society. As I’ve written elsewhere, in sharp contrast to the rich family tree that comes just prior, the people of Babel are given no names whatsoever – and no parentage or children either. “All the people,” the Torah says simply, “were of one speech (Gen. 11:1).” Everyone is simply a face in the crowd.
To keep from being “scattered across the earth,” this anonymous, homogenous group sets about stacking mortar and bricks:
“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. And they said, ‘Come, let us build us a city, and a tower with its top in the Heavens, to make a name for ourselves; else we shall be scattered all over the world.’” (Genesis 11:3-4)
As scholars have troubled over for millennia, it isn’t clear what these people did that was so wrong. After all, what could be a loftier cause than staying united—to keep a community from being “scattered all over the world”? And yet for some reason, God descends and scatters them all.
Perhaps staying unified and utterly the same are exactly the problem. Consider Rashi’s telling of the horrific end to the whole ordeal. At the moment that language failed, Rashi says:
“One person asks for a brick, and the other, [misunderstanding] brings him lime. The former therefore attacks him and splits open his brains” (Rashi on Genesis 11:7).
By: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter
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