Torah from around the world #35

By: Rabbi Joan Glazer Farber,
R.J.E., Adult Learning Specialist for the

Union for
Reform Judaism

, New York

Et Ha’Olam” — Repairing our World

The United Nations General Assembly has just
completed its annual meeting in New York. It should be seen as a time when
people come together to speak about common goals and peace. Inside the UN, some
speakers call for cooperation, while others stoke the flames of hatred.

In this context, Parashat Noach reminds us of
the challenges of speech for humanity. In 9 short verses, the people shift from
a shared language and vocabulary to multiple languages, from understanding to

“They said, ‘Come, let us build a city
with a tower that reaches the sky, so that we can make a name for ourselves and
not be scattered over the earth!’ Then Adonai came down to look at the city and
tower the people had built, and Adonai said, ‘Look—these are all one people
with one language, and this is just the beginning of their doings; now no
scheme of theirs will be beyond their reach! Let us go down there and confuse
their speech, so that no one understands what the other is saying.'”
(Genesis 11:4-7)

On the surface, the actions of the people
appear to represent cooperation and understanding, yet their end goal reflects
their egos and their fears. They want to make a name for themselves based on
their acts of grandeur and at the same time that want to avoid being scattered
over the earth. God has a problem with this plan and recognizes that their
shared language, their ability to understand each other is the ability to reach
their goal. For the first time, we see a punishment that fits the crime, as God
confuses their language and scatters them over the face of the earth.

Today, we are the heirs of multiple languages
and live in a world where peoples do not understand the ways of their
neighbors. We require translators and experts to explain what actions imply and
words mean. As Jews, who live around the world and among many cultures, we have
maintained a common language for prayer, study and ritual and have learned the
language of the societies in which we live. We dedicate ourselves

et haolam

—to repair our world through understanding and caring for the
other so that we might live in peace with our neighbors.

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