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Parshat Noach: Unity and Diversity

by Rabbi Kalman Topp

After the flood, there are two striking symbols presented in the Torah. The first is the rainbow that G-d designates as the symbol of a covenant between Him and the earth. The second is that of the “Migdal Bavel,” the grand tower designed by Nimrod and the people of Shinar.

The people of Shinar were “of one language and of common purpose” and said “let us build a city for ourselves to prevent us from being dispersed.” What were they attempting to do and what was their crime? Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, the Netziv, explains that they wanted to build a peaceful and united society. However the unity that they wanted to create was one of uniformity, suppressing distinction and forcing people to think alike. Nimrod was the original strongman who was all about control and domination. The purpose of the tower was, according to the Netziv, not to wage war on G-d but rather to monitor people’s whereabouts to insure that nobody was escaping. They appointed officers to patrol the city to regulate intellectual thought. They were the founders of the Big Brothers of history and prototypes of the communists who want to inhibit diversity.

While the tower represents the attempt to bring uniformity to mankind, Rav Aharon Soloveitchik points out that the rainbow, the multicolored rainbow, symbolizes the diversity of mankind. The rainbow is a result of the refraction of the sun’s rays. There’s a single white light from the sun and when it penetrates the clouds, it becomes an entire spectrum of colors. Every person, Rav Soloveitchik explains, is created a pure white ray. However, as time passes, because of each person’s unique DNA and because of life’s circumstances that shape the personality, many differences emerge between people. The beauty of life, signified by the rainbow, is when you have different colors, representing different types of people all coming together side by side. This is not unity of uniformity. This is unity with diversity.

Pascal, the great 17th century French philosopher, once said “unity which does not depend on plurality is tyranny, plurality which is not reduced to unity is confusion.” The tower of Bavel unfortunately promoted the former. The rainbow promotes the model of our community which we celebrate this Shabbat- a unity of plurality, unity balanced with diversity.
Shabbat starts Friday: 4:52PM
Shabbat ends Saturday: 5:53PM
Thu, January 17 2019 11 Shevat 5779