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Shabbat Parashat Noach | 5763
A Shift in the Focus of Unity
After the sinfulness which brought about the Great Flood, the descendants of the survivors, known as the dor hahaflaga, joined together to rebel against Hashem (in one form or another- see the commentaries). Hashem countered by mixing up their speech, so that one did not understand the other, thus foiling their plot. Why did they not get as severe a punishment as their predecessors did?
Rashi (11:9) brings the classic explanation that the unity of the dor hahaflaga was so beloved by Hashem that it greatly mitigated the otherwise horrible sin. What seems ironic to a problematic degree, though, is that the punishment wiped out the one main virtue that these people had, their unity. Couldn’t Hashem have foiled their plan and punished them in another way, while encouraging or at least allowing their continued unity?
After some thought on the nature of human unity and another look at our parasha one can suggest the following. The ability of man to unite was not hindered by the mixing up of languages- it was redirected. Mankind at that time united to undertake a major project. But the yetzer hara of man causes him to compete against that which is outside his unit. Perhaps that is sad, but it is psychologically and historically self-evident. With all of humanity united, who was their target? Hashem. That phenomenon was put to an end. No longer would all of humanity be able to speak the same language, literally, and more importantly, figuratively. So where is the room for unity, which is such an important value?
In listing the descendants of Noach, our parasha mentions three times in similar language the following description of the family groups: “These are… according to their families, by their languages, in their lands, by their nations” (Bereishit 11:31). Why are languages mentioned in connection to families? The fact that each family group became distinct, with its own language and land, gave it a unique identity. This family/nation unit became the focal point for the application of the value of unity. Thus, a unified group of people would and apparently should show their unity by forging strong, reliable, loving bonds of unity on the familial and national level. To expect that full unity can exist on a higher level on the global level is to fight the Divine decree on the dor hahaflaga.
We pray for the time when all of humanity will once again be united, this time to serve Hashem, not to rebel against Him. Until then, we will have to suffice with true unity on a family/national level (which is certainly not easily attained) and with amicable relations with other nations.
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