Building Towers - For What?
After the destruction of civilization in the great flood a new generation
arose and searched for a way to immortalize itself – so that their existence
would withstand any new natural disasters. They gathered in the
Tigris-Euphrates valley and there built the great city that would be called
Nineveh. And to guarantee that their achievements would be forever
remembered, they embarked on building a colossal structure – a great tower
pointing towards - and seemingly even touching - the sky.
It was the first ancestor of our modern-day skyscrapers. This was the great
technological leap forward in the discovery of creating bricks as a building
material, which enabled such a project to be imagined and executed. The
Torah specifically relates to us that the sole purpose of this tower soaring
heavenward was “to build for us a name” – a remembrance, an eternal monument
to human technology and ability that later generations would gaze upon in
awe and admiration.
It was a testament to the human ego and its accompanying hubris. That is
perhaps what Midrash is implying when it states that, “…..we will prop up
the heavens” with this tower. They were saying that puny man could
successfully defy God and nature and immortalize itself with its
technological wonders and its insatiable ambitions.
Every dictator in history has sought to immortalize his achievements in
stone and marble lest his greatness become unknown to future generations.
Almost all of these memorials have failed to live up to their original
purpose. The slaves who built the pyramids of Egypt are more well-known than
are their pharoanic masters.
The Parthenon and Coliseum lie in ruins and Nineveh itself has long since
disappeared from the map of the world. And the great twin towers of the
World Trade Center of New York City are also no longer with us.
The irony of all of this is that none of the great architectural monuments
of the ancient, medieval and modern world were felled by nature. There was
no need to prop up the heavens in order to save Nineveh from destruction.
Nineveh and all of the other great monuments of the ancient world were all
destroyed by human beings who were themselves bent upon creating their own
eternal monuments to their own achievements.
It is part of the inborn competitive nature of human beings to attempt to
destroy the immortality of others as a means of guaranteeing one’s own
immortality. Thus we continue to hound people who are already in the grave,
searching for scandal and blame. The Torah itself tells us that the tower at
Nineveh was never completed because people did not understand each other’s
language – basically, they could no longer cooperate one with the other.
The fractiousness and parochialism of humans towards each other is what
truly stands in the way of human immortality. Rabbi Yisrael Lipkin of Salant
summed up this lesson in his pithy remark: “Concern for the needs of others
in this world is my entry ticket to the World to Come.” Torah values and its
observance coupled with good deeds, not physical monuments, are our
guarantors in achieving immortality.
Rabbi Berel Wein