This year, Rabbi Avraham Dovid Garber’s weekly parshah class is taking place at the home of Rebbetzin Trani Rosenblatt in Kew Gardens Hills in memory of the Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshiva Kesser Torah, Rabbi Elyakim Rosenblatt zt”l.
The class is geared for people of all levels. Rabbi Garber, a talmid of Rabbi Rosenblatt, teaches a text-based, engaging class where everyone participates, asks questions, and discusses Torah ideas. Participants come away with practical ideas they can apply to daily life, and they also become familiar with the weekly parshah in depth. The emphasis, based on the teachings of Rabbi Rosenblatt, is on learning how to refine our midos from lessons gleaned from the parshah.
This week, Rabbi Garber focused on the Tower of Bavel in Parshas Noach. He explained that the Hebrew name haflagah, means division. The word “achadim,” which is used to describe the Dor HaHaflagah, is an unusual word because it’s the plural for “echad,” which means one. The people in this generation all had the same idea. They were totally united with one mission. You can accomplish a lot when you are united with one language and one mission. The p’sukim say that the people of that generation traveled from the East. “What does that mean?” Rabbi Garber asked. It meant that they traveled from Gan Eden in the East and they found a valley to settle in. They were all together in this valley, surrounded by mountains. Rashi says that they wanted to find a place where they could strengthen each other.
Rabbi Garber asked if anyone noticed anything unusual in the wording of the next few p’sukim.
The word “havah” was used repeatedly. “Where else in the Chumash do you see that word “havah?”
It was used in Sh’mos, when Pharaoh says, “Come, let us deal wisely with them.” Here, Pharaoh was referring to the Jewish people and he said this right before he enslaved them.
In Parshas Noach, it says “Havah – come, let us make bricks.” “Havah, come, let us build a city.” “Havah, come, let us make a name.”
“What is the connection with this “havah” and the one in Sh’mos?”
Pharaoh wanted to show that everyone agreed with him. This was when he was making a fundamental change in policy in Egypt towards the Jews. Here also, the “havah” is an invitation. It’s strengthening each other to do an activity. They want to make sure that everyone is working together. They plan to build a city and a tower that will reach the heavens. They say we will do this so we won’t be scattered over the face of the earth.
Rabbi Garber pointed out that the whole story is concisely told in only nine p’sukim. The Torah is covering complex ideas in a short amount of text. The midrash teaches that many people died while building the bricks to make the tower. This generation was more concerned about the building than the cost of human life.
The leader at this time was Nimrod. When they said they wanted to make themselves a name, this meant that they wanted to be powerful and that they wanted to dominate the human race.
The Talmud teaches that when they said they wanted to make themselves a name this implies idolatry. Why? A powerful leader thinks he’s G-d. They pointed a sword up to heaven to fight G-d.
Rabbi Garber posed the question, “So, why is belief in Hashem a challenge to them?”
Someone suggested, “You don’t want to have to follow rules. You only have to answer to yourself.”
Rabbi Garber taught that Hashem says you can’t throw out human life at the cost of advancing technology. Totalitarian regime leaders do not want G-d telling them how they have to live their lives. They consider themselves to be like G-d.
A participant pointed out that the Emperor of Japan considered himself Divine. Also, Pharaoh considered himself to be G-d.
Judaism teaches the opposite idea. Leaders are not G-d. Each person has access to Hashem and learning Torah, and each person is great in his or her own right.
Rabbi Garber asked, “Why does Hashem need to go down to see the city and the tower?” Obviously, Hashem sees everything. He didn’t need to go down to see what was going on. Hashem is teaching us an important y’sod, foundation, and that is why this is mentioned here. “Before you make a judgment about something, you have to check it out.”
Hashem punishes the Dor HaHaflagah midah k’neged midah (measure for measure). Hashem echoes the same language of “havah” and He says, Come, let us jumble their language. The mixing of languages is measure for measure punishment, because now they can’t understand each other and are forced to disperse into different groups. They can no longer foster immorality together and they won’t be able to build their oppressive technology. Rabbi Garber taught that “Hashem dispersed them so they wouldn’t be able to unite against Him again.”
He then elicited the lessons we learn from this story of the Dor HaHaflagah. When people think that they are powerful, then Hashem teaches them it’s a fallacy. Technology can make a person think he is in control. They were saying that their technology made them greater than Hashem. We also learn that the nature of man is to have a yeitzer ha’ra. The Torah purifies him. In addition, we learn that unity brings strength and that Hashem punishes measure for measure.
Rabbi Garber asked why Hashem didn’t just destroy them. After all, they were fighting against Hashem. What was the difference between them and the generation of the flood who were totally wiped out except for Noach and his family? During the flood, people were committing violence against each other. In the Dor HaHaflagah, they were united and not fighting each other. This is what saved their lives. Hashem wouldn’t destroy them since they were not fighting each other. We see this with the concept of t’shuvah. Hashem will accept our t’shuvah on Yom Kippur for sins we committed against Him, but sins against a fellow human being are not forgiven unless we first ask the person we sinned against for forgiveness.
The parshah ends on a positive note, with the genealogy of the Dor HaHaflagah that culminates in the birth of Avraham Avinu. Rabbi Garber left everyone with the thought that there will be people on the highest level who can change the world. We will see this in next week’s parshah, where one person made such an incredible difference to the whole world.
Rebbetzin Rosenblatt added, “Never underestimate the influence you can have on others.”
Everyone is welcome to come participate on Monday nights at 7 p.m. until 8 p.m., at 147-36 69th Road, Kew Gardens Hills.
By Susie Garber