I’d like to start by thanking my parents (of course), for supporting me through this process. I would like to thank my Grandparents on both sides for being so helpful. And thanks Dina, for feeding me corn pops and being my D’var coach. And most importantly, I’d like to thank Rabbi Zari for guiding me and teaching me throughout this experience.
Before I begin my D’var Torah, or discussion of the portion of the Torah we heard today, I’d like to tell you about my Tikkun Olam project. Tikkun Olam means “to heal the world”. I worked with Jewish Family Services to gather resources to help set-up apartments for new refugees who have come to this country. There have been refugees at every time throughout history. Today the United Nations High Commission for Refugees estimates that there are 65.3 million displaced people globally. Throughout my work with Jewish Family Services, I have learned about the process of letting people into the country who have been stripped of everything and need help starting a new life.
The Parasha or Torah portion I red today is called Noach and talks about Noah’s Ark and the City of Babel. I’m here to talk about the people of Babel – a story about confused languages and displaced people.
Let’s start with a modern example of language miscommunication. When my family spent four months in Germany, my Dad only knew two words in German, “tintenfisch” (octopus), and “katze” (cat). Both incredibly useful words. On the first day, he learned two more words. My mom sent him to the store to buy “brötchen” (bread rolls). The first of his two new words of the day. She told him what to look for and how to pay and sent him off. He returned ten minutes later, empty handed, claiming they didn’t have bread rolls! Just something that looked like bread rolls called “ofenfrische”. We thought that this was hilarious
and explained that “ofenfrische” literally means “fresh out of the oven”. As soon as we said this, he realized he’d just learned his second word of the day. My dad still doesn’t speak German.
The people of Babel never had miscommunication problems like this, because they all spoke the same language. Let me explain what happened. After Noah’s flood, the population regenerated and settled together into the land of Shinar. They decided to build a city and tower “with the top in the sky” making a name for themselves and preventing them from being scattered. God then came down and said, quote, “If, as one people with one language for all, this is how they have begun to act, then nothing they may propose to do will be out of their reach” end quote. He scattered the people all over the world and made them speak different languages.
Why did God do that, nobody knows?
Abravanel, a 15th century philosopher, said that the people of Babel began to fight and G-d decided to scatter them all over the globe. I don’t agree with Abravanel. In the Torah there is no mention that the people were fighting. Benno Jacob, a turn of the century biblical scholar, said that they were building the city for fame and glory instead of good. I agree with Jacob. They could have used their resources as housing for the poor or to help others in need and I don’t think they did that. But I don’t however, believe that’s why God scattered the people.
I have two contradictory thoughts: I think the people were scattered because God worried that the people would stop worshiping him, because if they could accomplish anything they wouldn’t need a god to look up to. God didn’t want that to happen.
On the other hand, God also could have been testing the people to their limits and scattering them around the globe to challenge them to come back to a community and to be able to work together despite their language barrier.
What would have happened if God hadn’t scattered us across the globe? What would have happened if we all still spoke the same language and lived in the same place?
Would our culture be as diverse a society as it is now? Would there be more peace or less? If we all spoke the same language, would there be no refugees, because we would be one community?
I do know that my dad would have known exactly what ofenfrische means, and therefore we would have had breakfast sooner.
Whether scattered or not, I would hope that we progress to find equitable ways for everyone to live.
Thank you and Shabbat Shalom!