Let Us Build Us a City and a Tower
And all the earth was one language, one set of words. And it happened as they journeyed from the east that they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to each other, “Come, let us bake bricks and burn them hard.” And the brick served them as stone, and bitumen served them as mortar. And they said, “Come, let us build us a city and a tower with its top in the heavens that we may make us a name, lest we be scattered over all the earth.” And YHWH came down to see the city and the tower that the human creatures had built. And YHWH said, “As one people with one language for all, if this is what they have begun to do, now nothing they plot to do will elude them. Come, let us go down and baffle their language there so that they will not understand each other’s language.” And YHWH scattered them from there over all the earth and they left off building the city. Therefore it is called Babel, for there YHWH made the language of all the earth babble. And from there YHWH scattered them over all the earth (Genesis 11:1–9).
“The generation of the Dispersion have no portion in the world that is coming. What did they do?—the disciples of Rav Shila taught: They said, ‘Let us build a tower, ascend to heaven, and cleave it with axes, that its waters might gush forth.’ In the West [the land of Israel] they laughed at this: If so, they should have built it on a mountain [and not in a valley]!
Rabbi Yirmiyah son of El’azar said: They split up into three parties. One said, ‘Let us ascend and dwell there;’ the second, ‘Let us ascend and serve the stars;’ and the third said, ‘Let us ascend and wage war.’ The party which proposed, ‘Let us ascend, and dwell there’—YHWH scattered them: the one that said, ‘Let us ascend and wage war’ were turned to apes, spirits, devils, and night-demons; whilst as for the party which said, ‘Let us ascend and serve the stars’—for there YHWH made the language of all the earth babble.
It has been taught Rabbi Natan said: They were all bent on serving the stars. [For] here it is written, that we may make us a name; whilst elsewhere it is written, and the name of other gods you shall not invoke (Exodus 23:13): just as there idolatry is meant, so here too. Rabbi Yonatan said: A third of the tower was burnt, a third sunk, and a third is still standing. Rav said: The atmosphere of the tower causes forgetfulness. Rav Yosef said: Babylon and Borsif are evil omens for Torah. What is the meaning of בורסיף (Borsif)?—Rav Assi said: An שֹׁאֲפִי (shafi), empty, בּוֹר (bor), pit” (BT Sanhedrin 109a).
“The generation of the Flood said, Who is Shaddai that we should serve Him? (Job 21:15), whereas the generation of the Dispersion said: ‘It does not rest with Him to choose the celestial spheres for Himself and assign the terrestrial world to us. Come, rather, and let us build a tower at the top of which we will set an idol holding a sword, that it may appear to wage war with Him.’ Yet of the former not a remnant was left, whereas of the latter a remnant was left! But because the generation of the Flood was steeped in robbery, as is written, They set aside boundary-stones, a flock they steal and pasture it (ibid. 24:2), therefore not a remnant of them was left. And since the latter, on the other hand, loved each other, as is written, And all the earth was one language, therefore a remnant of them was left [cf. Zohar 1:76b]. Rabbi said: Great is peace, for even if Israel practice idolatry but maintain peace among themselves, the blessed Holy One says, as it were, ‘I have no dominion over them’; for it is said, Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone (Hosea 4:17). But when their hearts are divided, what is written? Their heart is divided; now shall they be found guilty: [He shall break down their altars, He shall ruin their images] (ibid. 10:2)….
Come, let us bake bricks and burn them hard—this people is destined to be burnt out of the world.
And the brick served them as stone. Rabbi Huna said: Their work prospered: a man came to lay one [stone] and he laid two; he came to plaster one [row] and plastered two [the work seemed to grow of itself]. And they said: Come, let us build us a city and a tower. Rabbi Yudan said: The tower they built, but they did not build the city. An objection is raised: But it is written, And YHWH came down to see the city and the tower? Read what follows, he replied: And they left off building the city, the tower, however, not being mentioned. Rabbi Ḥiyya son of Abba said: A third of this tower which they built sank, a third was burnt, while a third is still standing. And should you think that it is small—Rabbi Huna said in Rabbi Idi’s name: When one ascends to the top, he sees the palm trees below him like grasshoppers [cf. Isaiah 40:22]” (Bereshit Rabbah 38:6, 8).
“There are five types in the עֵרֶב רַב (erev rav), motley throng [or: mixed multitude, cf. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Teshuvah 3:7]: נְּפִלִים (Nefilim), גִּבֹּרִים (Gibborim), עֲנָקִים (Anaqim), רְפָאִים (Refaim), and עֲמָלֵקִים (Amaleqim), Amalakites [an נֶגַע רַע (nega ra), evil affliction, which plagues Israel until this day]. Because of them, the small ה (he) [Malkhut] fell from Her place. Balaam and Balak were from the side of עֲמָלֵק (Amaleq), Amalek. Take עָם (am) from בִּלְעָם (Bilam), Balaam, and לָק (laq) from בָּלָק (Balaq), Balak, and you are left with בָּבֶל (Bavel), Babel: for there YHWH made the language of all the earth בָּלַל (balal), babel (Genesis 11:9) [for similar word play, see Zohar 3:199b].
These are the ones who remained of those for whom it was said at the time of the Flood, And He wiped out all existing things (Genesis 7:23). Those who survived from the time of the fourth exile [of Edom] became the heads of the world. They became a weapon [lit., a tool of חָמָס (ḥamas), violence] over the Children of Israel and of them is written: for the earth is filled with חָמָס (ḥamas), outrage, by them (Genesis 6:13)—Amalekites.
Of נְּפִלִים (Nefilim) is written: That the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were comely (Genesis 6:2). These are the second type, נְּפִלִים (nefilim), fallen ones, from above. When the blessed Holy One made the human He said, Let us make a human in our image (Genesis 1:26). He wished to make him head over all above, so that he might govern all and they be under his rule, just as with Joseph: appoint overseers for the land (Genesis 41:34).
They wanted to denounce him, asking What is man that You should note him (Psalms 8:5), for he is bound to offend before You? The blessed Holy One replied, ‘If you were down below like he, you would offend more than he does.’ Immediately, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man… they were filled with lust for them, so the blessed Holy One cast them down in chains.
These are Uzza and Aza’el, from whom descended the souls of the motley throng, which are the Nephilim. They caused themselves to fall, fornicating with women who were comely. Because of this, the blessed Holy One also eliminated them from the world that is coming, that they not have a portion there. And He gave them their reward in this world, as is written: But He pays back those who hate Him to their face to make them perish (Deuteronomy 7:10).
Of the third type, גִּבֹּרִים (Gibborim), is written: they are the גִּבֹּרִים (gibborim), heroes, of yore, the men of הַשֵּׁם (ha-shem), renown (Genesis 6:4). These descend from the side of those, of whom is written: let us build us a city and a tower… that we may make us a שֵׁם (shem), name (Genesis 11:4). They build synagogues and academies [cf. Zohar 3:23a]. [They are like a] Torah scroll with a crown upon רֵישׁוֹי (reshoi), its head [corresponding to: and a tower with its רֹאשׁוֹ (rosho), top, in the heavens (ibid.)]. Not in the שֵׁם (shem), name, of the blessed Holy One, but rather to make themselves a name, as is written: that we may make us a name. From the Other Side they overcome Israel, who are like the dust of the earth. They rob them, shattering and wasting their work. Of them, is written: and the waters surged and multiplied mightily over the earth (Genesis 7:19).
רְפָאִים (Refaim), the fourth type. If they foresee distress for Israel, they abandon them. Even if they have the power to save them they do not want to do so. They abandon Torah and those who study it. Instead, they do favors for gentiles. Of them, is written: רְפָאִים (refaim), ghosts, they shall not rise [at the revival of the dead (Sullam)] (Isaiah 26:14). When Israel are visited, it is written of them: and made all their memory to perish (Isaiah 26:14).
עֲנָקִים (Anaqim), the fifth type. They belittle the value of those, of whom is written: and a עֲנָקִים (anaqim), necklace, round your throat (Proverbs 1:9) [namely, Israel]. Of them, is written: The Rephaim, they, too are accounted as עֲנָקִים (anaqim), giants (Deuteronomy 2:11), so they amount to each other—they return the world to welter and waste. And the mystery of the matter: the destruction of the Temple. And the earth then was welter and waste (Genesis 1:2), since [the Temple] is the basis of the world and the settling thereof. When the light, which is the blessed Holy One, appears immediately they will be wiped out of the world and destroyed. Nevertheless, redemption does not depend on their destruction, but on Amalek, that is, until he who was referred to in the oath is destroyed, which has already been explained [see Exodus 17:16: For hand upon Yah’s throne: War for YHWH against Amalek for all time]” (Zohar 1:25a, Tiqqunei ha-Zohar).