The Language of Humanity
by Shlomit Cohen
The story of Migdal Bavel is an easy story to miss in a Parsha that focuses on the Flood and re-birth of humanity. Yet the description of this mysterious tower contains timeless lessons about the limit of human conquest and has profound implications for our generation.
After the flood, the Torah explains that everyone in the world "spoke just one language and was of one mind". The narrative continues as the nation discovers bricks and decides to "build a city and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for ourselves; else we shall be scattered all over the world." However, it quickly becomes clear that the nations’ intention is to overthrow G-d and in response G-d transforms their fears into reality – He confounds their language and spreads them over the entire world.
On the one hand the tower is a testament to the accomplishments of Mankind and the potential impact of the collective – G-d Himself acknowledges that when working "as one people with one language...nothing they propose to do will be out of their reach". But the people of the post-flood generation made two fundamental mistakes. Firstly, they used the discovery of bricks, the innovation of their generation, to achieve, control, and influence, rather than to redress the social inequality of their time. Secondly, instead of viewing diversity as an opportunity to learn from others and expand their own world view, they approach difference as a threat to their power.
G-d teaches us a powerful lesson in Parshat Noah – if we work together without intention to bring about a more peaceful and just world we will not succeed. The language of humanity is one of giving and kindness and we must hold on to that which binds us together or we too will destroy the "tower" we have created. If, however, we are guided by the values of tzedek u'mishpat, then G-d’s statement, "nothing that they propose to do will be out of their reach", will no longer be an admonition, but a promise, and we will indeed succeed in our ultimate goal of Tikkun Olam.
Shlomit Cohen is a fellow in the Graduate Program in Advanced Talmudic Study at Yeshiva University and graduated from Stern College for Women this past spring. While an undergrad Shlomit led the Social Justice Society of Yeshiva University. She has also interned on Capitol Hill and advocated on behalf of equal housing rights.
 Genesis 11:3-4
 Genesis 11:9