The Tower of BabbleBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Back in the day, everyone spoke one language. (This makes sense, as everyone was descended from the three sons of Noach.) The people settled in the Shinar valley in what would later become Babylonia. There, they had what they thought was a spectacular idea: they conspired to build a city with a tower that would reach “to Heaven.” The stated purpose was to prevent G-d from scattering them across the face of the Earth.
G-d didn’t care for the people’s intention, which was to unite against Him. He decided to divide them by confusing their language, so that this family would be speaking Egyptian and that family would be speaking Aramaic, etc. For good measure, G-d also scattered them across the face of the Earth – the very thing they sought to avoid! (One definition of irony according to Webster is “incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the expected result.”) The place was then called Bavel (Babel – Babylonia) from the Hebrew word meaning to mix up, since it was there that mankind’s language became scrambled.
In a very famous comment, Rashi cites the Midrash on why the rebellious generation of the tower was punished less severely than the generation of the flood. He responds that the generation of the flood made war on one another, while the generation of the tower were united, albeit against G-d. While G-d did not approve of their rebellious intentions, He did recognize the fact that they were at peace with one another and respond accordingly.
The balance of the chapter traces the lineage of Noach’s son Shem to Avram (Abram). Avram was one of the three sons of Terach. Avram’s nephew was Lot and his wife was Sarai. Terach took Avram, Sarai and Lot from their home in Ur Kasdim towards Canaan. They settled in Charan, where they lived until Terach died.
The narrative continues in the next chapter with Avram’s story.