This week we read about the Tower of Babel. I feel like this is a story that gets looked over when discussing Parshat Noah, although I think that it has quite a lot to teach.
The story is relatively short.
Everyone on earth had the same language and the same words. And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them hard.” … And they said, “Come, let us build us 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.” The Lord came down to look at the city and tower that man had built, and the Lord said, “If, as one people with one language for all, this is how they have begun to act, then nothing that they may propose to do will be out of their reach. Let us, then, go down and confound their speech there, so that they shall not understand one another’s speech.” Thus the Lord scattered them from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel because there the Lord confounded the speech of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them over the face of the earth. (Genesis 11:1-9, JPS Translation)
Reading this passage this year makes me think a lot about what is going on in Israel today, as well as the idea of pluralism.
Often we speak about how to make peace and how do we create a pluralistic society. Many times I feel like we try to think of ways to make everyone the same. We want to look at the similarities that every person has, and from there we are able to relate to one another.
In some ways this might be the strongest way for people to be able to work together. Even God thinks that human kind would be too strong if they all “speak the same language”, when communication is all the same. But this can be because when we all speak the same way, we stop listening. I know what the next person is going to say. There is no place to grow, learn and change.
By mixing up the languages, yes it separates us. It makes communication difficult, sometimes so difficult that we feel like we can’t speak at all. But then we have the test to learn about the other, and learn how to speak to them. We have to learn how to embrace the differences that other people have.
We have the opportunity to learn from the other person and see their perspective on the world. There is a lot of research on how language affects the way that one perceives the world. Just by the words that we use we see and relate to the world differently. What would happen if we find a way to take the time to see the world through the eyes of someone different from me?
In order to really create a space of peace and pluralism we need to look at the differences. We need to stop for a minute and try to see the world through the eyes of the other. What do they need? What are they experiencing? And if we really want to get the story, we need to stop and talk to them. We need to listen to what their world is like, from them. If both sides find a way to listen to the other, maybe then we will be able to work together again. Together create a shared language. Together work to create a better world.