Building Towers to ‘Hold Up the Sky’

Yael Eckstein  |  October 22, 2020

Tower of Babel

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” — Genesis 11:4

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Noach, from the name of the main character, Noah. It is from Genesis 6:9 –11:32.

When I was studying the Bible story of the Tower of Babel, which is found in this week’s Torah portion, I came across this intriguing statement from the Jewish sages: “One third of the tower was burned, one third is buried, and one third still stands.”

The comment, of course, is meant to be insightful, not literal. As I learned, it refers to the three different motivations for building the tower.

For some people, the purpose of the tower was to wage war against God. The theory was that once the tower was high enough, humankind would conquer God. Today, no one believes that they can reach heaven, let alone conquer God. This is what the sages meant when they said, “one third is burnt.” The idea no longer exists.

For other people, the motivation behind building the tower was to provide a monument for the people who died in the great flood and inspire worldwide unity forever. While global unity is something we still strive for, it has yet to be achieved. This is what the sages meant by “one third is buried.” The idea exists, but remains buried under the reality of our world today.

A third group of people were driven to build the tower because they believed that the tower would “hold up the sky” if God brought another flood like the one in Noah’s time. They were building “supports” for the sky.

This idea suggests that human beings can outsmart God. It’s the idea that we can control our lives beyond what God may decide. It’s the belief that if we can put away enough money, build great enough weapons, or hire the best doctors, we won’t be dependent upon God. This idea is alive and well today. It is the third of the tower that still stands.

Too often, we try building towers to “hold up the sky,” spending our time and efforts to control the things that aren’t in our control. Instead, we need to surrender to God and recognize that only He is in control. While we need to do our best in preparing for the storms in life, God is our only true refuge. When we are faithful to Him, He will see us through even the greatest storms and faithfully guide us throughout our lives.

Your turn:

Surrender to God through prayer by telling Him your worries and trusting Him to take care of them as only He can.

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