Parasha Inspiration – Noach

וַיֵּ֣רֶד יְהֹוָ֔ה לִרְאֹ֥ת אֶת־הָעִ֖יר וְאֶת־הַמִּגְדָּ֑ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר בָּנ֖וּ בְּנֵ֥י הָֽאָדָֽם: וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהֹוָ֗ה הֵ֣ן עַ֤ם אֶחָד֙ וְשָׂפָ֤ה אַחַת֙ לְכֻלָּ֔ם וְזֶ֖ה הַֽחִלָּ֣ם לַֽעֲשׂ֑וֹת וְעַתָּה֙ לֹֽא־יִבָּצֵ֣ר מֵהֶ֔ם כֹּ֛ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר יָֽזְמ֖וּ לַֽעֲשֽׂוֹת: הָ֚בָה נֵֽרְדָ֔ה וְנָֽבְלָ֥ה שָׁ֖ם שְׂפָתָ֑ם אֲשֶׁר֙ לֹ֣א יִשְׁמְע֔וּ אִ֖ישׁ שְׂפַ֥ת רֵעֵֽהוּ: וַיָּ֨פֶץ יְהֹוָ֥ה אֹתָ֛ם מִשָּׁ֖ם עַל־פְּנֵ֣י כָל־הָאָ֑רֶץ וַיַּחְדְּל֖וּ לִבְנֹ֥ת הָעִֽיר:

And the Lord descended to see the city and the tower that the sons of man had built. And the Lord said, “Lo! [they are] one people, and they all have one language, and this is what they have commenced to do. Now, will it not be withheld from them, all that they have planned to do? Come, let us descend and confuse their language, so that one will not understand the language of his companion.” And the Lord scattered them from there upon the face of the entire earth, and they ceased building the city.

Genesis 11:5-8

This week’s Torah portion contains the story of the Tower of Bavel, which is many times overlooked. There are some significant implications hidden within the text of the story. It is important to keep these in mind, they are foundational.    

Verse 6 explains that at this time in history there is only one nation of the earth, and, there is only one language. Torah does not tell us here what that language is. Torah does not have to teach us what language this is, Torah has already explained what the one language is. If we flip back to Genesis 1, we read that Hashem said, “let there be light.” This is in fact false. What Hashem said was, “יהי אור.” Hashem spoke creation into being, not in English, nor in any language other than Hebrew. Hebrew is the holy tongue and is the only language that we know from Torah was in existence at the creation of the universe. Therefore, because verse 6 tells us there was only one language, we know that that language was Hebrew. Everyone on earth spoke Hebrew. There were no other languages.

Ostensibly because of the arrogance of man, Hashem scattered us into many nations and many languages. One great consequence of this scattering is that Scripture became far more difficult to understand. Translations are approximations and interpretations. Every translation contains the biases of the translator. It is unavoidable, it is part of the process of translation.

The implication here is profound. In order to understand Scripture, Hashem’s word to mankind, one must learn the original holy language, Hebrew. The other languages of the earth are, in fact, all steps further away from Hashem. The process of learning Hebrew is a step toward Hashem. As we strive for wisdom, understanding, and knowledge, Hebrew is not only an important tool, it is a mandatory step in the process. Shabbat shalom.

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Rabbi Steven Bernstein

Steve was born on Lag B’Omer in Ann Arbor, MI but was raised in Gainesville, FL. The son of two University of Florida professors, he excelled in the sciences in school. In addition to his normal academic studies, he pursued his Jewish education studying with many Rabbis and professors of Judaic Studies from the University including visiting Rabbis such as Abraham Joshua Heschel and Shlomo Carlebach.