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Successfully Joining Hands

10/21/2020 02:46:23 PM


I once participated in the full contact sport of riding a bus in Israel, and along with my friends, jostled onto the bus only to notice that there were only two seats left for our party of three. We were riding from Jerusalem to Eilat, a three-and-a-half-hour trip, and didn’t want to waste the day of our vacation waiting for the next bus. So, we devised a plan for each of us to take the seat for a little bit, and then stand for the other legs of the journey. It meant that each of us would have to stand for more than an hour of the trip, but at least we wouldn’t have to stand up the entire time. It was an easy solution to a simple problem, but I’ve often wondered if it would be possible to scale up the endeavor. If everyone on the bus took a turn standing, then it only means that each person would need to stand for only 5-10 minutes of the entire journey, hardly such an arduous ask! Yet, good luck organizing people to get on board such an idea; let alone, organizing them to get on board the bus in an orderly fashion.

Human beings are notorious for not being able to work together, despite knowing that working together brings bigger rewards. Parshat Noah expounds on this feature of humanity and tells the story of the Tower of Babel. When everyone has the same language and purpose, humans set out to build a tower with its head in the heavens. However, upset with this affront to the Divine, God confounds their speech and scatters them throughout the world. In the biblical imagination, language was the barrier that kept people from working together. However, we know that language is only one such obstacle for human cooperation. Other obstacles to human cooperation include cultural idiosyncrasies, greed, impatience, and selfishness. One doesn’t have to look further than how a society decides to confront this pandemic to understand the challenges a society has at getting everyone on the same page. 

Looking at the surface layer of the Tower of Babel story, I appreciate humanity’s tenacity to accomplish amazing things. While the purpose of the ancient Babylonian tower was for a nefarious purpose, I appreciate the reminder that human beings can band together to accomplish amazing things. Proving that the whole is larger than the sum of its parts, the Tower of Babel story acknowledges that humans have the power to overcome the forces that inhibit cooperation, and to band together with others. Although we must always be vigilant that our energy and effort is channeled in the right and moral direction. It is my prayer that we will always find the power to join hands and heads with those with righteous purposes and that we can overcome the influences that would deteriorate such collaboration.

Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784