For the week of October 16, 1999 / 6 Heshvan 5760
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 6:9 - 11:32
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1 - 55:5

Human Greatness

Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves… (Bereshit / Genesis 11:4).

The Torah portion this week helps us to understand how we can achieve greatness in this life.

The settlers of the ancient city of Babel wanted to create a place of greatness, security, and unity. They thought that somehow their city would provide these things for them.

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 and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth" (11:4 - emphasis mine).

These people sought to establish an identity based on themselves. They thought they could find security in what their own hands could make.

But God thought it best to thwart their plans by bringing confusion to them. God's reason was

If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them (11:6).

God is acknowledging here what we would call today human potential. History has shown how we have been able to take ideas - even some of the most fantastic ones - and bring them to reality. The technological advances we have experienced in the past 100 years are breathtaking. Clearly God has given us this great ability. And even though he put an end to the building of Babel, he hasn't taken that ability away.

But he did not bless Babel. And why not? The answer is found in the story following this one - the Call of Abraham. God cursed Babel, but blessed Abraham. In fact there is much that the people of Babel wanted that God promised to Abraham. This shows us that our desires to create something enduring, to have identity, to find community, and to reach the heavens are good desires. It was how they went about it that got them into trouble.

Self-reliance, self-focus, and self-protection are not what we are made for. We were created to be God's representatives on earth. Our identity cannot be found in ourselves - we, who were made in the image of God. It is only when we submit to God's direction in our lives that we can rise to the greatness he intended.

As we learn to submit to God, we don't lose our intelligence, creativity, and abilities - far from it! It is here where we can truly realize our human potential. In fact, as we learn to trust God, we discover that our effectiveness in the world is not tied to our natural abilities at all. The greatness that God desires for us is far greater than anything we could possibly attain on our own.

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