Contemplating Hebrew Letters || Beth (“Bet”)



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Migdal Bavel

(Tower of Babel)

    The whole earth was of one language and of common purpose. And it came to pass, when they migrated from the east they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them in fire.” And the brick served them as stone, and the lime served them as mortar. And they said, “Come, let us build a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed across the whole earth.”

Genesis 11:1–9

    As children, we’re taught that the “Tower of Babel” story is a fable used to explain why we humans speak so many different languages and why we live in so many different corners of the world. We’re not often told the more sophisticated truth, which is that after the people built their famous tower (imagining that they could reach the heavens and from there rage against God), they were punished with the very thing they sought to avoid: dispersion throughout the world, as well as different languages.

    This dispersion is considered a punishment, for now the people who once were of “common purpose” are many different peoples, filled with differences and conflicts—a state of affairs that will lead to unrest beyond anything they’d imagined.

    The people of this early generation (the one following the first destruction of the world through the great flood, which we read about in the story of Noah) sought to use their unity of purpose against God instead of finding ways to use that gift for the good. They didn’t appreciate the gift of Oneness they’d been given, so they were punished with the very opposite state of affairs: They’d now face the challenge of having to learn to understand one another linguistically, culturally, and even geographically before they could accomplish anything as a group. They were reduced to a tower of babble—no one could understand a word anyone else said— and confusion (the Hebrew word mebubal means “confused”).

    Today, we know no other reality than one of diversity and cultural dissonance. But at the beginning of time, we were One. This Oneness, which is also a sign of closeness to God, was not able to withstand even a relatively short period of human history. The rest of time would be a gradual coming together again, a journey of Tikkun Olam (Healing the World) that would take thousands of years to achieve.

    In our 21st-century world, we’re just beginning to experience the spiritual repair, the Tikkun, for the Tower of Babel. Today we’re a global society; we understand each other’s languages; and we deal with one another on political, economic, and social levels all the time. The world is still in disrepair, but it’s getting a little better every day.

    The letter Bet, which corresponds to the number two, is also the first letter of the Torah. This is to teach us that nothing is ever as apparent as we’d like it to be. Starting the Torah with Bet instead of Aleph suggests that it’s important to always look at two sides of every picture—and never take anything for granted. We must see things from both the spiritual and material angles, from the black and white perspectives, and from as many points of view as possible.

    This is the lesson of Babel: To think that we as a human population can band together to change the forces of nature or to rebel against higher forces over which we have no control is the ultimate hubris. For this mistake, we needed to be separated and given different languages and spaces, to be spread about in such an extreme way that we long for the way things used to be, and to try to repair that damage so that we can one day become united for good.


    The Bet card comes to you in times of conflict. You’re seeing things in one way when you need to be looking at the situation from any number of alternate angles. Consider the question at hand from different perspectives, putting yourself in the opposite position and thinking about the various ways in which you can be proactive instead of merely reactive.

    Meditate on the story of the Tower of Babel. Imagine the heat of anger that prompted those people to build a mammoth tower.

Now breathe . . . and imagine how the world might have been had we not assumed that our strength and power could literally climb into the heavens and change the force of nature.

Nothing is as simple as we first assume; instead, life is a complicated web of perspectives and priorities. You can only find peace when you see things from many angles and then come to understand your own heart more truly.

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