Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
commentator. In Genesis chapter 11, Bible students encounter the inglorious debacle of the Tower of
Babel. Abravanel digs deep into the puzzling storyline. He asks: Where did the generation go wrong?
What underlaid the provocation of the Almighty?
“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.”
Abravanel supplies Bible students with an intriguing, though straightforward, response. Really, he says,
it was a repeat of an earlier and colossal miscalculation that befell Adam, Cain, and their descendants.
We’re talking about a dismal failure to prioritize, to internalize why the Maker made man in the first
place. Abravanel elaborates:
God created Adam in His image and likeness. In our context, it means that the Creator fashioned man to
be rational, and acknowledge God in this world. Put differently, man’s raison d’être centers on
perceiving His mighty endeavors. By so doing, man harmonizes and hones his soul.
Adam’s task, then, was chiefly a transcendental one. As for God, He provided Adam with a lovely garden,
stocked with abundant, nutritious food and drinking water. Indeed, nature smiled upon Adam and Eve,
and graciously opened its cupboards. First man would not have to lift a finger, let alone toil to live well.
Adam’s only “job” was to recognize his Creator, and live accordingly. Man was meant to live moderately
and enjoy physical pleasures maturely.
But Adam missed his cues. A natural life held no appeal. Of creature comforts, he wanted more and
more and more. And so, God expelled Adam from pastoral Eden to a less inviting environment. There, in
humiliation, he would fend for himself in a land cursed by Above.
No longer would nature be kind or forthcoming. Adam brought hardship upon himself, all because he
chose to flout the mission that the Maker requested. Backbreaking labor would be his lot. Adam’s son
Cain fared no better. Passion for make-believe amenities derailed him. He farmed an accursed land. Cain
plowed and the soil mocked him; Cain planted seeds and the soil mocked him more. In the end, Cain
resembled a beast of burden, his brow bent over furrows and fields that would yield no more than a
Abravanel surveys the ill fate of other early man, but for brevity, we omit that part of his discussion and
now turn to the generation who would build the Tower of Babel. Abravanel shows how they, no
differently than their forebears, failed to assume the mantle that God had placed upon them.
Understand that God gave sufficient supplies for mankind to subsist. Ample provisions would allow
people to act and live sensibly, while pursuing truth and purpose – nourishing the soul.
However, the post-flood generation wanted more. They were not satisfied with a simple and quiet
lifestyle. Instead, they set their sights on building a metropolis, the Tower of Babel its centerpiece.
Urban planners and architects wrote God out of the script. They also rewrote the play book, per se.
It became fashionable to buy stuff, acquire things. If it meant stealing from others, well, that presented
no moral problem for people seeking upward mobility. Thievery and murder followed. How different
urban existence compared with agricultural life!
Day and night. No longer were folks self-sufficient. For modern society, collectivism stood front and
center. Abravanel quotes King Solomon, who summed it up best: “God made man straight, but they
sought many intrigues.”
Though Abravanel writes more, readers get the gist of the point and understand where the generation
of the Tower of Babel went wrong. For the fuller discussion, please seeAbravanel’s World.