This week’s Torah portion has not one, but two major construction projects. One was a tremendous success and the other did not turn out quite so well.
The first one is the Ark built by Noah in order to save his family and the animals from the Flood. It was a complete success as the people and the animals from the Ark repopulated the earth following the Flood.
Shortly thereafter, the text tells us about a group of people who came to a new land together and said: “Come, let us build us a city, and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for ourselves; else we shall be scattered all over the world (Gen. 11:4).”
Biblical commentators have always focused on the words “to make a name for ourselves.” They did not build this structure to honor God. They did not build it to defend themselves. They did not build out of need. They only built it to glorify themselves.
The Torah goes on to tell us that God confounded the plans of these people by making them each speak a different language. No one could understand anyone else. The project came to a halt. This city in which this failed construction project was started became known as “Bavel” which means “confusion.”
I have thought about this story a great deal as the SJCC has engaged in our expansion project. If we are doing this just to have a prettier building, then we are going down the wrong path toward confusion and failure.
If, however, we are expanding and enhancing our building in order to better serve God and our community, then we have a chance to succeed. I obviously believe that we are doing the latter – that we are building new classrooms to better educate our children, a bigger sanctuary to accommodate more worshippers and more meeting space in order to do more good works.
So, instead of a useless tower, we are building a structure to bring together our community and shelter it from the outside world with the teachings of Torah, the words of the Siddur and our acts of Tzedakah. How can we go wrong?