Which was worse, the generation of the Tower of Babel or the generation of the Flood? The Tower of Babel incident was intended as a rebellion against God, whereas there is no mention of anyone raising a hand against God in the story of the Flood. Nevertheless, it seems God must have regarded the generation of the Flood as worse, for they were punished with utter destruction, whereas the generation which built the tower was merely scattered.
Rashi poses this question and suggests that the reason the generation of the Flood merited the harsher punishment was that they felt animosity toward one another and couldn’t get along. The generation of the Tower of Babel esteemed one another and cooperated only too well. It would seem that God is more appreciative of how we regard each other than with how faithful we are to God. Why?
Sarah Yoheved Rigler, in her book Heavenprints, tells the story of an encounter between the Hindu spiritual leader Swami Vijayananda (who was born a Jew named Adolphe Weintrob) and a visiting hasid. The swami reportedly said, “There are two levels of spirituality: a lower level and a higher level. The lower level is religion; the higher level is the recognition that everything is one.” The hasid replied: “There are two levels of love: a higher level and a lower level. There is love for every person in the world, and there is love for your family. If you’re not able to love your own family, your love of the whole world is phony.”
Spirituality yearns for the universal. We aspire to transcend our barriers and embrace the totality of all creation. Cultivating the human relationships closest to us seems mundane and trivial, even counter-productive by comparison. Ironically, the surest path to that universal may be through the embrace of our fellow particulars.
Rabbi Mitch Levine
My High Holiday address on the themes of Noah, kayak-making and getting out of our comfort zones was a winner. Click here to read it now.