Avram and Bavel

My son and I spent last Shabbat in Los Angeles, actually North Hollywood, helping to celebrate the Bar Mitzva of one of my longest and closest friend’s first son. As two non-family guests we were placed with neighbors for the evenings we were there. It was Parshat Noah, the end of which talks about the Tower of Babel, the creation of separate nations and languages and the dispersion of humanity.

Perhaps it’s the nature of these kind of meetings that we and our hosts were guided by an invisible hand to meet and share ideas. Looking at a timeline in his Chumash, he pointed out that Avraham (actually Avram at that time) was already alive during for this event. He reminded me that our sages emphasize that this mistaken effort was whole-heartedly subscribed to by all of humanity and so wondered how we dealt with our own participation in the affair.

We easily found some sources who seemed to whitewash the entire matter–Avraham was a prisoner of Nimrod’s at the time, God hid him in a cave, etc. These views weren’t very satisfying and certainly didn’t increase my understanding of our evolving spirit. I looked further, both within texts and within my own thoughts and experience. Luckily for sake of my “faith”, I did find a few mforshim willing to tackle the question including the Tzavta Naftali and the Maharal, and while they don’t seem eager to dwell on it, they imply that Avram’s choices and behavior during the events led to his development to become the founder of our tradition.

As I thought about it, I had several presumptions I began with. First off, it’s inconceivable to me that God created 99-44/100% of the world to trick the tiny Jewish people into sinning. Rather the world is as it is to constantly present the optimal challenge to each unique individual, Jew and non-Jew, in order to grow, develop and refine themselves and the world. One’s task is not merely one of choosing “not to sin”, but rather to grow and enhance. Each historical reality creates the ultimate opportunity at that moment of development not only to stumble and fail, but to move further towards The Creator.

The Bavel story tells us of a humanity which was fused into a single culture, a single outlook, a single description of reality, a single vision, a single language and a single purpose. We learn that they stayed together because of fear of separation. At this point, especially as Avram, as yet still only the potential founder, the potential fount of Chesed, not yet developed on his own, there is no reason to assume he’d hold himself apart.

But the world, as it exists on the material plane, isn’t such a simplified reality and such a single vision, like a child’s view of reality, soon becomes inadequate. A differentiation of aspects and facets and points-of-view is the next step to healthy growth, and as every parent soon learns about every step of development, there is a moving away.

So the question is what does humanity do once this new flowering has occured and what specifically does Avram do to merit becoming Avraham. It seems that the problem is not one of individuation, but one which lingers to this day of the inability to then re-integrate as mature entities. And this is perhaps the strongest paradigm of the mature Avraham who, after seeing through the folly of mutually exclusive world views, separatist idols which he smashes, becomes the host whose tent is open to all four approaches, who integrates all he encounters, who is able to find the primal Unity, the Divine, the Echad which underlies and joins all reality.

And now on to Lech Lecha as the journey builds momentum! Shabbat Shalom.

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