Devar Torah at Temple Emeth
Squeezed in between the accounts of Noah and Abraham, near the end of this week’s Torah reading, is the tale of the Tower of Babel. One of the many things omitted in this 9-verse-long story is how the people of the world arrived at the point where they believed that building a tower to the heavens would be humanity’s crowning achievement, that the ideal society is one that creates edifices, not one in which every individual strives to better themselves and each other. In the midrash, Rabbi Yitzhak (Genesis Rabba 38:7) points out that the story begins with the people settling in Shinar. He seems to read the word for “they settled” – vayeshvu, as implying that the people had become complacent. In the peaceful world following the flood, they made a mistake that we all make from time to time. They thought: “We’re not the evil people that were around before the flood, and in any case God promised not to destroy us again. Our lives are already good, happy and secure. So we don’t have to try to be better people, a better society – we’re pretty good as we are.” And to celebrate their self-satisfaction, they started to build a monument to themselves.
How did they slip into this? The Torah gives us a clue by placing this story between the lives of Noah and Abraham. Noah and Abraham, though they had their flaws, were leaders. They were willing to take a stance. Noah was the one righteous man in a wicked generation; Abraham abandoned idolatry to follow God, and brought ethical monotheism to the world.
In contrast, no names are given in the story of the Tower of Babel. They had no real leaders. The people clearly managed to cooperate with each other, and perhaps they had foremen or construction managers, but there was no-one to dissent, to provoke, or to inspire. No-one to lead them.
All communities need leaders to keep them safe from complacency. And Temple Emeth has the fortune of having found such a leader in my father-in-law, Rabbi Randy Konigsburg. He is a sworn enemy of complacency, and always eager to work in partnership with the others in his community to take on the challenges – both old and new – that face them. Be it changing demographics, modern values or technology, Rabbi Konigsburg has a fresh approach and and open mind. And for the eternal matters of deepening our connection to God and Torah, and how to better our society, he is primed to goad and inspire us to work harder and smarter.
It is my prayer – and conviction – that Rabbi Konigsburg will help this congregation, the local community, the Jewish people, and the world to keep complacency at bay for many years.
Mazel tov Rabbi Konigsburg, and mazel tov Temple Emeth!