The Tower of Babel
I’ve been thinking lately how all stories are created in the image of their tellers, and all tellers are created in the image of life, and all life is created in the image of the Holy One, Tzelem Elohim. In this way, all stories contain sparks of holiness. After all, Reb Nachman of Bratzlav says that every story has something that is concealed. What is concealed? Nothing less than the hidden light from the beginning of creation!
This is why no story is too small for our attention. For instance, this past week, Noah receives so much attention, and yet, at the beginning of chapter 11, in just a few sentences, lives another story (quiz time). Thankfully, in our tradition, stories beget stories, and they all contain sparks of holiness.
Here is my offering exploring chapter 11. This story is grown from our living tradition of stories, with appreciation and gratitude for generations of storytellers who have served and tended to their growth. Isn’t it amazing that Judaism “allows” us all to become storytellers and to imagine what might come before, and what might come after. Where does this story take your imagination? What questions and ideas are you left with? Is this an "environmental" story? Please share your reflections of the hidden light here and together we’ll continue to grow our amazing, organic Torah. B’Shalom, Maggid David.
“My name is Mardon, son of Nimrod the powerful. I write in misery and confusion, no longer understanding, hearing only babble around me. As the light wanes from my cold cave, I want to convey my story with trust that someone, sometime, might learn this language and learn from our arrogance.
My father Nimrod became king on his 20th birthday, the year he began wearing Adam’s "buckskin" clothing. When he wore Adam’s magical clothes sewn by the Holy One upon leaving the Garden, Nimrod realized that the animals bowed down to him as King. When the animals would bow down, my father would pull out his bow and kill them. He filled the people with shock and awe as he brought back menacing lions, enormous elephants, and hundreds of golden ptarmigan. All the people bowed down with widened eyes and made my father king of the world.
My father wanted to demonstrate his power. He conquered armies and built cities, but that was not enough for him. My father wanted more. He built a rock tower for his throne as tall as a mountain. On top, he had carved a giant cedar throne, on that a throne of iron, then one of copper, another of silver and on the very top, a throne of gold. The seat and back were covered with fine diamonds for comfort. Around the diamonds he placed many oil lights. The light reached up to the heavenly realms and out around the entire world. On this day, he became a god to all the people.
Still, he was not satisfied. He wore his anger openly and yelled at all those around him for not being enough. Most of all, he yelled at me, his son. I yearned to find a way to please him. It was I who suggested a Pillar to Heaven, to allow our military to storm heaven and conquer the heavenly realms. Why should the heavenly realms not be conquered by humans? I was sure we could accomplish this. Some recognized the arrogance and hubris of this project from the beginning. We simply told the people we have to do this to protect ourselves- because God was going to flood the world again, destroying all of the cities we have built. We have to strike first or risk being wiped out- just like Noah’s generation.
I embraced this project with zeal. I organized the brick makers, the brick layers, the masons and the carpenters to create this Pillar to Heaven. We built on the plains of Shinar a tremendous round foundation and raised the walls cubit by cubit. Stairs were built on the east and west side so those going up would never interfere with those going down. The strong, fired clay bricks were expensive to carry up the miles of stairway. The penalty of dropping one brick was death. Women could not stop even to give birth! The people worked together for 42 years and created a pillar that reached into the heavenly realms, 27 miles high.
When we were in striking range, our archers went to the top of the tower and upon my father’s command, released their sharpened arrows. Streaking into the heavenly realms, they returned covered in blood. God, loved that we were working together in harmony, though was concerned where our arrogance was leading. God hoped the bloodied arrows would be enough warning to desist. However, in pride, we interpreted success. When my father commanded the archers to ready a second wave, God blocked those arrows with ease and cursed the people with a confusion of tongues. The Pillar to Heaven turned into the Tower of Babel. The workers could no longer work together. A fire broke out in the confusion, burning a third of the pillar. Another third sank into the ground. The remaining third was abandoned, as a warning to those who wander through Shinar. Do not usurp power from the One, or forget that The Holy One, beyond the beyond, is the mysterious source of life and power.
My father felt no shame. In response to a prophecy that foresees a first born boy will one day replace him, he has decreed death to all first born sons. I could no longer help administer these policies. I ran from the kingdom at risk of my life and have been living in this cave. A new born baby named Abraham has just been brought here by a woman. I must save him from my father. I stop now for the baby is crying, signed Mardon, exiled son of Nimrod.”
Epilogue: The Rabbi’s add that the ruins of Babel can be seen to this day. However, those who even glance upon the tower are cursed with memory loss. Maybe you have met such a person in your life? You know them because they go around repeating, “who am I, who am I, who am I?”
Sources: Louis Ginzberg’s, Legends of the Jews, Howard Schwartz’s, Tree of Souls, Raphael Patai’s, Gates to the Old City, Joseph Gaer’s, The Lore of the Old Testament.