Off the Pulpit

The Tower and the Temple

Why did the people of Babel build their tower to the sky? The prevailing interpretation is that they were afflicted with hubris, the sin of pride. But another interpretation is preserved in Jewish commentaries. The story of the Tower is preceded by Noah’s flood. Imagine how terrified the people of Babel must have been. They were the post-apocalyptic generation. Perhaps the sky would fall again.

In this reading, the Tower of Babel arose not from arrogance but from fear. It was designed to be a pillar to hold up the sky. Perhaps with the tower holding aloft the heavens, the world would not be destroyed again.

Often it is not our appetites that cause us to sin, but our fears. Dread moves people to manipulate the world, often in negative ways, so they need not confront that which terrifies them. The generation of Babel needed to trust each other more and treat each other better. They needed to build society, not structures, to save them. This week when we observe Tisha B’av and recall the destruction of the Temple, we remember that no building can survive fear, division and conflict among the people who are supposed to sustain it.