Parashat Noach: The ‘b’nei Elohim’ will meet their fate at Babel
In this week’s Parasha, Hashem takes a new approach: rather than banish or annihilate, He empowers. The greater the knowledge, the rifer the controversy. Languages become muddled as the gate to heaven gives way to the utter pandemonium we call Babel.
by Rabbi Shlomo Vilk
Rosh Yeshivat Hesder Beren-Machanaim
The attempt made by the inhabitants of the valley between the Tigris and the Euphrates to ascend to the heavens, in the belief that their land is Bab-El, or “the gate of heaven”, is a direct continuation of all that had previously transpired. Hashem had banished Adam from the Garden of Eden, nestled between the four rivers, yet we discover that for some reason, the ones who lived there had been living in abundance and had benefited from technology and great power. Moreover, although Hashem had regretted creating mankind and deplored the actions of men, He kept one family alive to start everything anew, and in so doing, he gave humans far more power than they had ever wielded before the flood. Their conclusion was that humans are now in competition with Hashem, that they are greater and more powerful than Him, and that they will always triumph.
Yet this time, Hashem takes a new approach that reflects His profound wisdom, rather than his omnipotence. Rather than banish or annihilate, He empowers. The greater the knowledge, the rifer the controversy. Languages become muddled as the gate to heaven gives way to the utter pandemonium we call Babel. This is what often occurs when someone decides to declare himself or his location “the gate of heaven”. Everyone flocks there immediately, to bask in his presence, convinced that they are henceforth the representatives, emissaries and spokespeople of G-d Himself. Before long, an argument erupts: there is only one G-d, but which of them will be “the one”? Rabbi Yehoshua knew this, and proclaimed “it is not in the heavens”, when Rabbi Eliezer tried to open the gates of heaven, and in so doing, he sealed various gates of heaven for many long years. Since then, any attempt to declare a single greatness, a single Torah, a single way, a single truth, a single gate or a single Yeshiva has prompted suspicion, and would eventually provoke discord, leading to its own undoing.
For thousands of years, the people of Israel has been repudiating the b’nei Elohim, and we are so fearful of them that we’ve even favored sages over prophets, whom we have silenced. Furthermore, we have favored laymen over experts, and dispute over decisiveness, in order to prevent the resurgence of sages who are “children of G-d”.
Several weeks ago, we tried to open the gates of heaven through our prayers, and in several weeks, we will read about our forefather Jacob, who suddenly discovers the gate to heaven. This gate is open solely to prayers, angels, hopes and journeys. Instead of stopping by the gate and becoming a gatekeeper, Jacob continues his journey. Moreover, he isn’t taken in by the promise made to him at Beit Haelohim, and he swears that if Hashem remains at his side during his travels, and not just when he is home, he would dedicate a tenth of his assets to G-d and His house. During the High Holy Day prayers, we asked to dwell in the House of Hashem for all of our days, but we quickly curtailed our visit and moved into our Succahs, a place devoid of the Holy Presence, which makes room for man (The Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Sukkah, 5a).
Parashat Bereishit ends with a description of the b’nei Elohim visiting the “daughters of man”. Subsequently, man’s lifespan is reduced to 120 years. Yet no one truly knows who these b’nei Elohim were. Were they angels who descended from heaven and became flesh and blood? (see The Zohar, Volume 1, Parashat Noah 1; Pirkei Derabi Eliezer, ch. 22; see also Malbim Bereishit 6:2). Were they from the privileged classes (see Bereishit Rabbah, 26:5), or clergymen (Haktav Vehakabalah Vehaemek Davar – Bereishit, 6:2)? Perhaps they were alien life forms, as Erich von Däniken suggests in his book, Chariots of the Gods. At any rate, they certainly enjoyed a more elevated status than others. They were spiritual or material entities operating in the world, and corrupting it. It was this corruption that resulted in the destruction of the universe, as recounted in Parashat Noah, and the Tower of Babel is an expression of man’s renewed attempt to become b’nei Elohim once more. The next time we encounter the b’nei Elohim, they will include Satan, who tries to embitter the life of Job, a righteous and G-d fearing man. Centuries later, we meet a crucified member of the b’nei Elohim, who served as the inspiration for some of the most heinous crimes ever committed. Another member of the b’nei Elohim lived in the Arabian desert and spread his religion by the edge of the sword. The examples abound.
Ridding ourselves of these b’nei Elohim seems to be a daunting task. They always turn up, somewhere or another. Today, they can be found near our borders, in the Middle East. They are the ones who know what is best and what the ultimate truth is. They take their pick of women and defile the land, all in the name of G-d. This time, however, no flood will sweep through the land. The response was nothing but a mere squadron of American aircraft and a weak and a sundry collection of muted condemnations. The land filled with corruption, as the nations of the world continue to turn the other cheek, yet the b’nei Elohim will always have the same fate: Babel. The self-destruct mechanism works. They destroy each other. One of the b’nei Elohim murders another, and they spread over the face of the Earth. We are terribly distressed at the sight of innocent people drowning in the mud as the great tower collapses and we are greatly concerned of the danger this poses to us, but this cycle of destruction will continue until we learn that there is only one G-d, who is in heaven.