A Common Language

The creation of many languages--and the confusion and miscommunication that ensued--raise questions about the nature of our communication today.

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-- Arthur Koestler, upon accepting the Sonning Prize at the University of Copenhagen

Your Guide

Does a "common language" mean more than just using the same words? Is there a wholeness implied in verse 1 of the text? Does Rich's poem hint at our longing for that state?

Why did the rabbis attribute the materialism indicated by the Ginzberg quote to the builders of the tower?

We often react with frustration or anger when we cannot make ourselves understood. Can people without a common language remain together, or must they disperse?

Since the world was harmed by the building of the tower, what must happen in order for us to be able to achieve tikkun olam ("repair of the world")? How can we achieve a common language?

D'var Torah

The midrash tries to find reasons why the people building the Tower of Babel were at fault, so that God had to confound their language and separate them. Certainly we know from our own experience that miscommunication and lack of communication are the cause of much discord and imbalance in the world, both personal and global. But if communication is a desirable thing, why would God take it away from humans? Perhaps the motives that informed the communication were at fault. With words we create, and the builders of the tower were creating a monument to their own arrogance.

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Rabbi Leslie Bergson

Rabbi Leslie Bergson is the Jewish chaplain and Hillel director of The Claremont Colleges in Claremont, California.

Mary Baron is the Gabbai and Executive Vice President of Temple Sinai in Glendale, California, and the supervisor of a psychiatric crisis team. She received her M.A.J.C.S. from the Irwin Daniels School of Jewish Communal Service at HUC in Los Angeles, CA.