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Torah 365, Bereishit Chapter 11
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Bereishit, Chapter 11

Dear Friends,

We are continuing our study of Bereishit, with Chapter 11.  (Please click here to read chapters 9 and 10).  

This chapter contains the famous story of the Tower of Babel.  When the people, all of whom live in one area and speak one language, conspire to build a tower to reach the heavens, God stops them by creating divisions among them.

Happy Learning!
Roy Feldman

בראשית י"א
וַיְהִי כָל-הָאָרֶץ, שָׂפָה אֶחָת, וּדְבָרִים, אֲחָדִים.  וַיְהִי, בְּנָסְעָם מִקֶּדֶם; וַיִּמְצְאוּ בִקְעָה בְּאֶרֶץ שִׁנְעָר, וַיֵּשְׁבוּ שָׁם.  וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל-רֵעֵהוּ, הָבָה נִלְבְּנָה לְבֵנִים, וְנִשְׂרְפָה, לִשְׂרֵפָה; וַתְּהִי לָהֶם הַלְּבֵנָה, לְאָבֶן, וְהַחֵמָר, הָיָה לָהֶם לַחֹמֶר.  וַיֹּאמְרוּ הָבָה נִבְנֶה-לָּנוּ עִיר, וּמִגְדָּל וְרֹאשׁוֹ בַשָּׁמַיִם, וְנַעֲשֶׂה-לָּנוּ, שֵׁם:  פֶּן-נָפוּץ, עַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָאָרֶץ.  וַיֵּרֶד יְהוָה, לִרְאֹת אֶת-הָעִיר וְאֶת-הַמִּגְדָּל, אֲשֶׁר בָּנוּ, בְּנֵי הָאָדָם.  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה, הֵן עַם אֶחָד וְשָׂפָה אַחַת לְכֻלָּם, וְזֶה, הַחִלָּם לַעֲשׂוֹת; וְעַתָּה לֹא-יִבָּצֵר מֵהֶם, כֹּל אֲשֶׁר יָזְמוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת.  הָבָה, נֵרְדָה, וְנָבְלָה שָׁם, שְׂפָתָם--אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִשְׁמְעוּ, אִישׁ שְׂפַת רֵעֵהוּ.  וַיָּפֶץ יְהוָה אֹתָם מִשָּׁם, עַל-פְּנֵי כָל-הָאָרֶץ; וַיַּחְדְּלוּ, לִבְנֹת הָעִיר.  עַל-כֵּן קָרָא שְׁמָהּ, בָּבֶל, כִּי-שָׁם בָּלַל יְהוָה, שְׂפַת כָּל-הָאָרֶץ; וּמִשָּׁם הֱפִיצָם יְהוָה, עַל-פְּנֵי כָּל-הָאָרֶץ.  אֵלֶּה, תּוֹלְדֹת שֵׁם--שֵׁם בֶּן-מְאַת שָׁנָה, וַיּוֹלֶד אֶת-אַרְפַּכְשָׁד:  שְׁנָתַיִם, אַחַר הַמַּבּוּל.  וַיְחִי-שֵׁם, אַחֲרֵי הוֹלִידוֹ אֶת-אַרְפַּכְשָׁד, חֲמֵשׁ מֵאוֹת, שָׁנָה; וַיּוֹלֶד בָּנִים, וּבָנוֹת.  וְאַרְפַּכְשַׁד חַי, חָמֵשׁ וּשְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה; וַיּוֹלֶד, אֶת-שָׁלַח.  וַיְחִי אַרְפַּכְשַׁד, אַחֲרֵי הוֹלִידוֹ אֶת-שֶׁלַח, שָׁלֹשׁ שָׁנִים, וְאַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה; וַיּוֹלֶד בָּנִים, וּבָנוֹת.  וְשֶׁלַח חַי, שְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה; וַיּוֹלֶד, אֶת-עֵבֶר.  וַיְחִי-שֶׁלַח, אַחֲרֵי הוֹלִידוֹ אֶת-עֵבֶר, שָׁלֹשׁ שָׁנִים, וְאַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה; וַיּוֹלֶד בָּנִים, וּבָנוֹת.  וַיְחִי-עֵבֶר, אַרְבַּע וּשְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה; וַיּוֹלֶד, אֶת-פָּלֶג.  וַיְחִי-עֵבֶר, אַחֲרֵי הוֹלִידוֹ אֶת-פֶּלֶג, שְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה, וְאַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה; וַיּוֹלֶד בָּנִים, וּבָנוֹת.  וַיְחִי-פֶלֶג, שְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה; וַיּוֹלֶד, אֶת-רְעוּ.  וַיְחִי-פֶלֶג, אַחֲרֵי הוֹלִידוֹ אֶת-רְעוּ, תֵּשַׁע שָׁנִים, וּמָאתַיִם שָׁנָה; וַיּוֹלֶד בָּנִים, וּבָנוֹת.  וַיְחִי רְעוּ, שְׁתַּיִם וּשְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה; וַיּוֹלֶד, אֶת-שְׂרוּג.  וַיְחִי רְעוּ, אַחֲרֵי הוֹלִידוֹ אֶת-שְׂרוּג, שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים, וּמָאתַיִם שָׁנָה; וַיּוֹלֶד בָּנִים, וּבָנוֹת.  וַיְחִי שְׂרוּג, שְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה; וַיּוֹלֶד, אֶת-נָחוֹר.  וַיְחִי שְׂרוּג, אַחֲרֵי הוֹלִידוֹ אֶת-נָחוֹר--מָאתַיִם שָׁנָה; וַיּוֹלֶד בָּנִים, וּבָנוֹת.  וַיְחִי נָחוֹר, תֵּשַׁע וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה; וַיּוֹלֶד, אֶת-תָּרַח.  וַיְחִי נָחוֹר, אַחֲרֵי הוֹלִידוֹ אֶת-תֶּרַח, תְּשַׁע-עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה, וּמְאַת שָׁנָה; וַיּוֹלֶד בָּנִים, וּבָנוֹת.  וַיְחִי-תֶרַח, שִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה; וַיּוֹלֶד, אֶת-אַבְרָם, אֶת-נָחוֹר, וְאֶת-הָרָן.  וְאֵלֶּה, תּוֹלְדֹת תֶּרַח--תֶּרַח הוֹלִיד אֶת-אַבְרָם, אֶת-נָחוֹר וְאֶת-הָרָן; וְהָרָן, הוֹלִיד אֶת-לוֹט.  וַיָּמָת הָרָן, עַל-פְּנֵי תֶּרַח אָבִיו, בְּאֶרֶץ מוֹלַדְתּוֹ, בְּאוּר כַּשְׂדִּים.  וַיִּקַּח אַבְרָם וְנָחוֹר לָהֶם, נָשִׁים:  שֵׁם אֵשֶׁת-אַבְרָם, שָׂרָי, וְשֵׁם אֵשֶׁת-נָחוֹר מִלְכָּה, בַּת-הָרָן אֲבִי-מִלְכָּה וַאֲבִי יִסְכָּה.  וַתְּהִי שָׂרַי, עֲקָרָה:  אֵין לָהּ, וָלָד.  וַיִּקַּח תֶּרַח אֶת-אַבְרָם בְּנוֹ, וְאֶת-לוֹט בֶּן-הָרָן בֶּן-בְּנוֹ, וְאֵת שָׂרַי כַּלָּתוֹ, אֵשֶׁת אַבְרָם בְּנוֹ; וַיֵּצְאוּ אִתָּם מֵאוּר כַּשְׂדִּים, לָלֶכֶת אַרְצָה כְּנַעַן, וַיָּבֹאוּ עַד-חָרָן, וַיֵּשְׁבוּ שָׁם.  וַיִּהְיוּ יְמֵי-תֶרַח, חָמֵשׁ שָׁנִים וּמָאתַיִם שָׁנָה; וַיָּמָת תֶּרַח, בְּחָרָן.
 
Genesis 11
And the whole earth was of one language and of one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another: 'Come, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly.' And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar. And they said: 'Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, with its top in heaven, and let us make us a name; lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.' And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the LORD said: 'Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is what they begin to do; and now nothing will be withholden from them, which they purpose to do. Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.' So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth; and they left off to build the city. Therefore was the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth; and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth. These are the generations of Shem. Shem was a hundred years old, and begot Arpachshad two years after the flood. And Shem lived after he begot Arpachshad five hundred years, and begot sons and daughters. And Arpachshad lived five and thirty years, and begot Shelah. And Arpachshad lived after he begot Shelah four hundred and three years, and begot sons and daughters. And Shelah lived thirty years, and begot Eber. And Shelah lived after he begot Eber four hundred and three years, and begot sons and daughters. And Eber lived four and thirty years, and begot Peleg. And Eber lived after he begot Peleg four hundred and thirty years, and begot sons and daughters. And Peleg lived thirty years, and begot Reu. And Peleg lived after he begot Reu two hundred and nine years, and begot sons and daughters. And Reu lived two and thirty years, and begot Serug. And Reu lived after he begot Serug two hundred and seven years, and begot sons and daughters. And Serug lived thirty years, and begot Nahor. And Serug lived after he begot Nahor two hundred years, and begot sons and daughters. And Nahor lived nine and twenty years, and begot Terah. And Nahor lived after he begot Terah a hundred and nineteen years, and begot sons and daughters. And Terah lived seventy years, and begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begot Lot. And Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees. And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah. And Sarai was barren; she had no child. And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his son's son, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there. And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran. 
Questions and Links
  • Why do the people want to build a city and a tower?
  • What does "make us a name" mean?  What is their fear?
  • How does God's reaction respond to the people's initial action?
  • Dr. Daniel Gordis offers a close reading of our passage and draws a powerful message from it here
  • Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks explores the true sin of the people here
Pieter Bruegel the Elder's 1563 Renaissance painting, Tower of Babel, now is displayed at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.  The Renaissance was a period of grand building, no different in ethos from the Biblical Tower of Babel.  Here, Breugel depicts the grandeur of the tower on the one hand, and its futility on the other.  The tower itself is huge: compare it to the castle to its right, which seems so small and insignificant in the face of this tower.  A look at what's going on in the tower almost invites us to join in on the fun inside.  However, just as the tower is being built, it is falling apart already.  The King and his builders at the bottom left don't even seem to notice that it's falling apart before their eyes as they continue to build...
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