Rabbi Jonathan Ganger
by Published on October 8, 2021

If building a Tower to reach the heavens, where would one think to build? On a simple level, one would estimate that the Heavens are far away and so any help would be appreciated. At the very least, one would place the tower in an elevated area. Yet, that is not what happens. Instead, the people who choose to build the tower pick a valley which is Shinar, or Bablylon, which the Talmud emphasizes was very low. Furthermore, in the description of the tower, there is an emphasis that the builders made bricks that they used as stone. Why can’t a brick just be a brick? Why does it need to become stone? Further, it is unclear why the Torah decided in this case to emphasize the building materials. Granted, by the ark there were some descriptions about the material, but that contained in it many hints to other things, and it was in the context of very exact dimensions. Here this is not the case.

The Zohar picks up on these details and uses it to build a contrast with a very different structure- the Beis HaMikdash. That structure is entirely made of stones without any brick. Why the difference? To understand the difference, we need to understand the difference between stones and bricks. The foundation that everything stands on is stone. Having a bedrock is what allows buildings to stand. For example, if one looks at the New York City skyline, there is an area without tall buildings. Why? Because it lacks the same bedrock that exists elsewhere on Manhattan Island. In other words, it can’t support such tall buildings because they will sink. We see from here that human ingenuity still needs to have something it rests on that is not human made but G-d made, bed rock, to create. The temple needed to be made of stone to emphasize that at best human beings can move around stones, but those stones are given to us and ultimately the essence of the building is clearly divine.

The builders of the Tower of Babel wanted to erase that foundation. They wanted even the foundations stones to be human made brick- there should be no trace of a divine influence on this tower. This is also why a valley is an ideal place to build it. Building it on an elevation would have created an admission that we need some divine assistance. If we go beyond bricks and buildings, a deep idea is put into place. The essence of life is to take the gifts and first principles divinely given to us to build an edifice on top. To do that we have to recognize that some things like morality are given, not created. Today the world is trying hard to make all aspects of life ‘brick’, an expression of subjective human experience. In doing so, they want to wipe away any trace of a divine bed rock. It is clear that this story is ongoing, and the lessons remain to be fully internalized.