Parashat Noach encompasses two prominent stories; two stories that have always stayed with us in memory. The first, of course, is the story of the flood. It's the tale of a humanity that is corrupt. A humanity that meets the Creator's expectations, so to speak.
The Kadosh Baruch Hu decides to destroy this humanity. Although it is true that when the flood ends, He promises and commits that there will not be another flood, that there wil not be another destruction ever.
A few chapters later, we encounter the story of Migdal, Babel, the Tower of Babel. Actually, the Tower of Babel is one of the Torah's episodes that is perhaps most documented, as it likely happened. In the area that ancient Babylon occupied, the famous ziggurats were found, enormous towers 100 meters high through which men wanted to reach the heavens, where they believed divinity resided.
Why are these two stories so close together? What do these two stories have to do with each other? Why would they be so closely connected? Does it follow a chronological order, one story happening after the other? It's not necessarily what the Torah usually does.
The flood speaks of individuality. The flood speaks of those who have to preserve themselves to move forward. It speaks of a Noah who does not account for the rest of humanity, does not fight for them like Abraham will much later for those whom the Kadosh Baruch Hu will destroy in Sodom and Gomorrah. Noah obeys, builds the ark, and locks himself in it with his own, with his family, very individualistic. He moves forward only by caring for his world and his own.
Later, in the Tower of Babel, the story is about caring for the collective. Individualities did not matter.
We know the story. If a person fell from the tower under construction, they did not really care. If an animal or some construction material fell, then they lamented that loss, as it delayed the common and ambitious goal of reaching the heavens.
The Creator's anger at this attitude led to the entire humanity being scattered, each with a different language, making it impossible for them to continue the task. However, what truly happened was that all they cared about was safeguarding that collective goal. Before the divine punishment, there was only one language that summoned everyone, and all understood what they had to do. What understanding could there be if there was only a collective understanding of the task at hand? There were no individualities, differing opinions, arguments. Just everyone pulling in the same direction.
Although it might sound ideal for a society, perhaps that is the great message the Torah wants to convey, one that aligns with our ancient tradition.
What is important is not the individual; what is important is not the collective. What is important is both. One can and should care for oneself and put oneself first, but each one of us is also responsible for what happens around, in the community, in society, on the planet. Anachnu Shomrei acheinu. We ARE our brother’s guardians. The opposite Cain answered about his responsibility towards his brother.
If we do not have that awareness of both the individual and the collective, mixed at the same level, understanding that we have to sustain everything, then it will not work. Even though there will not be another flood, we ourselves, humans, might not grasp the message and will cause our own flood, and the need of starting anew once more.
Perhaps in some other way, we have the opportunity to balance these scales. On one side, we have the individual and being individualistic and taking care of ourselves and developing and moving forward. On the other side, in the other scale, we have the collective, and both carry the same weight. Let's support them, and surely we will have a Tikun Olam, an improvement of our world, as it should be. A more equitable society and a world that is fair and at peace.
Rabbi Gustavo Geier