Technology and the Tower of Bavel

Parshat Noach ends with the story of the tower of Bavel: Breisheet 11:1-9: “The whole earth was of one language and of common purpose…They said to one another, ‘Come let us make bricks and burn them in fire.’ And the brick served them as stone and the lime served them as mortar. And they said, ‘Come let us build us a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, v’naaseh lanu shem, let us make a name for ourselves…’”


Nechama Leibowitz brings the opinion of Beno Yaakov who says that these psukim show man’s technological advances. They didn’t have stone so they made their own bricks. However, once they were able to make the bricks, to be creative, they felt that they themselves were godlike and they began to feel haughty. Instead of saying “Let’s use the bricks to make houses to protect our families from the rain”, they became obsessed with making bricks and building in order to make a name for themselves.


In Pirkei DeRebbi Eliezer we read a midrash that gives us insight into the priorities of the builders: The tower had seven steps from the east and seven from the west. The bricks were hauled up from one side the descent was on the other. If a man fell down and died, no attention was paid to him, but if one brick fell down, they would sit and weep and say: Oy! When will another brick be hauled up in its place?


The punishment of that generation is seen in sentences 7-8: “Come let us descend and there confuse their language, that they should not understand one another’s language. God dispersed them from there over the face of the whole earth and they stopped building the city”.


Advances in technology can be positive and should be welcome. However, technology can have negative effects as well.


Just last week, people all over the world were concerned about the safety of a six year old boy who was seen getting into a homemade hot air balloon. After a tremendous amount of money was spent on searching for him, it turns out that  he was hiding at home in a box while the balloon flew in the sky so that his family could “make the news”, make a name for themselves- become famous- “naaseh lanu shem”.


Let’s hope and pray that the prophecy of Zephania (3:9) comes true: “For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may call upon Shem HaShem the name of God, to serve with one consent”.


May we see the day where the whole world speaks the same language, a language of belief in God and a language of peace and ethics, where technology is used solely for making the world a better place.