Choose Your Tower

Two chassidic rabbis were riding in their carriages when they met in the middle of a bridge. One carriage was pulled by two old horses, the other by a team of four powerful stallions.

The rabbi with the old horses asked the other, “Why do you need such strong horses?” Answered the other, “To get to my destination quickly.”

“And what if you are headed in the wrong direction?”

“Then I will make up for lost time more quickly when I turn around and correct course.”

The first rabbi assumed that the other used the expensive, showy horses for his own glory. The second rabbi assured him that it was for G‑d’s sake.

This raises the question, do our possessions and achievements bring glory to us, or are they for G‑d’s glory?

The Torah tells us that in our patriarch Abraham’s day, a generation was punished for building a tower. Jewish mystics say that the generation of Jews that suffered in Egypt was a reincarnation of the tower generation, and with their suffering they atoned for the sin of tower building.1 What is wrong with building a tower?

Let’s look at what the Torah tells us about the Tower of Babel. The people said to each other, “Let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower that reaches the heaven.”2 Contrast that with the approach encapsulated by King David, “The L‑rd is great in the city of our G‑d.”3 The Tower of Babel was built to reach heaven in order to serve the city. We build cities to serve G‑d.

Two Perspectives

G‑d provides us with talents, successes, possessions and people in our lives. We are grateful for all He gives us. Our tower reaches the heaven, and we recognize that our tower, our successes, come from heaven. But is it our tower? Is it for our glory? When we pray, are we attempting to build a tower that reaches the heaven, to seek more and more glory for ourselves?

Our sages taught that all that G‑d created is for His glory.4 The city that G‑d builds is not our city, it is His city. Our talents are not for our glory, they are for His glory. “The L‑rd is great in the city of our G‑d.” You will notice an anomaly though. While the city is not ours, G‑d is “our G‑d.” When you perceive all your achievements as a glory to G‑d, you haven’t lost your city, you have gained a G‑d.

G‑d has no need for a tower. He gives us a tower so that He can have a relationship with us, so that He can become our G‑d.

G‑d can’t have a relationship with angels, because angels perceive that they are part of Him. Similarly, we can’t have a relationship with our arms or toes because they are part of us. To have a relationship, He created an existence that perceives itself as separate from G‑d; He created people who are capable of taking credit for the things that G‑d created, capable of claiming the tower for themselves.

The only reason we are given all the blessings that we have is so that we can come to realize that they are not of our making. In other words, He gave us the tower so that He can be our G‑d, so that we can choose Him, and He can have a relationship with us.

Brick and Stone

The Torah tells us that the Tower of Babel was built with bricks. Our sages comment that there were no stones available at the time. How is this possible?

Bricks are man-made; stones are natural, made by G‑d. The sages were saying that the people did not give credit to G‑d. The people of that era viewed their achievements as bricks, as man-made achievements, so they built a tower out of bricks. Even as they demanded more from G‑d, brazenly reaching to the heavens with their tower, they built it with bricks, in effect telling G‑d that they would take credit for whatever He gave them. To atone for this, the generation of Jews in Egypt were made to build cities and towers out of bricks.

But they came out of Egypt and built the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was like a city, and the Holy of Holies was like a tower. But it was not a tower for man, it was a tower for G‑d. Today, when we no longer have the Temple, our G‑dly city is Torah and mitzvahs, and our tower is prayer.

Two Languages

Just as it is with towers, so is it with words.5 There are stone words and brick words. There are G‑dly words and words of human convention. Words of Torah and prayer are stone words; words of mundane affairs, of human conventions, are bricks.

There are times in our day that are devoted to bricks and times that are devoted to stones. The question is, which tower are we building? Do we invest in the bricks to afford time for the stones, or do we invest in the stones to gain G‑d’s blessing for our bricks? The answer to that question determines which tower we are building—the Tower of Babel or the Holy of Holies.

Put more spiritually, one might say this. Every Jew has a G‑dly soul and an animal soul. When we engage in worldly affairs, we use our animal soul. When we engage in G‑dly affairs, we use our G‑dly soul. The question is this: Can we recruit our animal soul to pray with us? And can we recruit our G‑dly soul into our mundane affairs? Can we develop a faith and love for G‑d to the point that even our selfish ego would want to pray and reach out to G‑d?

If we achieve this, we will have turned bricks into stones. That is the ultimate answer to the Tower of Babel. That is the ultimate Holy of Holies, the ultimate exodus from Egypt, and the ultimate expression of our relationship with G‑d.6