The False Nobility of Unity

A new civilization formed in the aftermath of the flood. One particular community decided to create a new city with a tower in its center, designed -in their words- to prevent being “scattered all over the world” (11:4). How the city was to prevent that scattering is not entirely clear, but their intention in staying together in the city seems explicit: “To make a name for ourselves”.


This unity brings with it a peculiar dilemma: We typically value togetherness, yet we see that their’s was punished. We often boast how unity breeds production, or that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. Even Hashem, before dismantling their plan, described the community as one which ‘can accomplish whatever they plan’ (11:6). Why did Hashem destroy their community? Was it not a good trait to be unified?


Based on the commentary of Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, we can say that the issue was less about their unity and more about their motivation. In truth, a cohesive group is only as important as their mission. If their plan was to care for others, teach others, build for others, then perhaps their unity would add to their value. As we mentioned before, however, their unity was only to “make for ourselves a name”. Unity for the sake of fame and fortune is not noble, but dangerous. Tradition tells us that the builders cared more about their bricks than about their colleagues. 


Community is not an end unto itself, but rather a powerful tool. Like most tools, it must be utilized appropriately to add true value. As the generation of the flood learned the hard way- no matter how many people are doing the wrong thing- that doesn’t make it right. As Avraham “Ha’Ivri” will teach us next week, one needs the fortitude to stand on the correct side, even as everyone else stands on the other. Numbers do not connote nobility, and if we consider it as such, we might end up sacrificing what truly matters.