Commentary by Dr. Ursula A. Falk


The Tower of Babel and the Confusion of Tongues


To the uninitiated, Babel is composed of two words: baa, meaning gate, and el meaning god.  The confusion of tongues is the initial fragmentation of human languages in the Book of Genesis, as a result of the construction of the tower of Babel.  There is one interpretation that alludes that humanity at one time had one language and therefore understood  each other.  The Tower of Babel and the smugness of those who built it challenged the Lord.

 “The Lord said:  Let us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”  They were scattered abroad over the face of  the earth and the builders of the Tower left without building the city.  Therefore the place was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of  the land and scattered its inhabitants over the face of all the earth.

There is a great deal of meaning to this Bible story.  We are a people who do not understand one another.  Not only do we have different languages, different cultures, different beliefs, different  goals and different values.  Our common human needs are the same.  We all want to eat, to be well to be comfortable, to be recognized, to be important.  How we accomplish these needs differs depending on the culture into which we were born and raised, the upbringing that we had, our ancestors with their beliefs, our intelligence, our capabilities and much more. It depends on how we want to live our life, what makes us happy, how can we reach that which is important to us.  Do we live for immediate gratification or do we live for the future?  Do we believe we will be rewarded by killing those who are unlike us and who have different belief systems, or none at all?  Do we strife to excel through attaining material goods or through prestige, knowledge and recognition? Do we receive gratification through force or peaceful means? We all to some extent have choices.  There is importance in how we choose.  Choice plays a large part in our lives.  It is, however, not the entire story.  There are times when fate takes over.  No one knows exactly what tomorrow will bring. Our choices are not those of our neighbors.  How the public votes may not be what we as individuals want or do.  We may find negative surprises which was not part of our goal, not of our wishes or beliefs.  We may be falsely persecuted as a people for things that did not happen and that has nothing to do with us or our ancestors.  One of those basic persecutions of us the Jewish people are the alleged killing of a Jesus.  We are scapegoated for this belief.  It is a way of  scapegoating a whole people without documented proof for no factual rhyme or reason.  Another example is attaching hatred to  current Americans for transporting the black man out of Africa and turning them into slaves.  These acts are documented, yet the white population of today is not responsible for their possible ancestors who participated in this atrocity.  Holding on to these long ago actions give our “black brothers” an excuse for engaging in the high crime rate; for scapegoating other hard working minorities who have succeeded; for envy, for a lack of initiative or willingness to engage in strenuous work. There is a great deal of misunderstanding between all nations, all peoples and all of humanity.  We speak a different language from one another.  Whether it is in our belief system, our ancestors and their indoctrination of those who came after them; their achievements or lack thereof, the lessons they did or did not learn.  We don’t know what the proverbial “language” of another person is.  All cultures have their special speech with differing intonations, allusions, insinuations, etc.  Even the different specialties have “lingo” that we cannot appreciate.  We frequently cannot understand another person’s tastes, actions or feelings. 

Unfortunately even ethnic groups do not live peacefully together.  We as the “chosen people” must try to stand together; to respect one another, to adhere to the ten commandments, in all aspects, to respect our non-Jewish neighbors as well as all of humanity, to stand up for one another, against anti-semitism and those who would annihilate others and to remember the words  “Kol Yisroel Chaverim”.


Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of  Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).

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