Who doesn’t know the story of Noah and the Ark? How Noah was the only righteous man found throughout the world, so God decided to save him and his family from the destruction of mankind, which had become evil and godless in everything they did.
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The flood comes, all life (except the fish, of course) is destroyed, and Noah and his family repopulate the earth.
Later, we are given the generations of Noah that came after him and then told the story of Babel, that evil town whose population sought to be as God by building a tower to the heavens and, in essence, placing themselves with God. Well, we all know what happened then- God created Republicans and Democrats, and since then people haven’t been able to work together, at all.
Nah, that’s not what really happened.
What did happen is that God created different races and languages which confused everyone, with the result that mankind became separated by language and race.
This parashah ends with the generations of the children of Noah specified, down to the time of Abram (who was not yet called Abraham).
I think we can all agree that one of the most terrible societal ills that exist in the world today is racism. It has resulted in nothing but war, murder, social unrest, rioting, and hatred. It is probably one of, if not the main, reason for millions upon millions of unwarranted deaths that have occurred throughout history, and to this day keeps people from being able to live and work together.
Now, have you ever considered that this horrible, evil thing called racism was created by God? Well, isn’t that what we just read in this Shabbat’s parashah?
In Genesis 11 we are told that God confused the world by giving them different languages and spreading them all over the earth, and since we have different races throughout the earth, and we know that up to Babel there was only one race (the descendants of Noah), then clearly God not only made different languages but different races, as well. Although we aren’t told this specifically in the Bible, and an important rule of biblical exegesis is that you can’t make an argument from nothing, I think it is safe to say that somewhere, somehow, different races were created and since God created everything, well…?
Racism is not so much hatred of another race, but the belief that one race is more important or better than another race. The hatred is what follows from the wrongful ideology that one race is better than another.
So, based on what we read in Genesis 11, since God separated all people into different languages and (assumedly) races, then God created racism, right?
God created different languages and races, but mankind created racism, the hatred of anyone who is of a different color or language. And since mankind created different religions, racism includes hating those of a different religion, as well.
God made us different, and at Babel, it was to help us not become too powerful before we were ready to be so. I don’t believe God wanted us to become separated by race and language forever but he did it to protect us from further punishment. To try to be as God is blasphemy and so, by creating the confusion that kept us from building the tower, God was actually protecting us from hurting ourselves.
In fact, in the long run, creating different races will help to strengthen us as a species. Look at animals: when we cross-breed animals we create what is called Hybrid Vigor, and that is (according to Wikipedia):
Heterosis, also called hybrid vigour, the increase in such characteristics as size, growth rate, fertility, and yield of a hybrid organism over those of its parents. Plant and animal breeders exploit heterosis by mating two different pure-bred lines that have certain desirable traits.
So by creating different races, God gave us the potential for humanity to become a more vigorous and healthy species.
Now, you may be thinking that God has specified we shouldn’t mix different races. After all, throughout the Tanakh God condemns the pollution, so to speak, of allowing pagans to marry into Israelite families, and vice-versa. In truth, he doesn’t specify not allowing (what today) we call mixed marriages, but he is adamant that religious differences are forbidden in marriage and even in social or government contracts.
Do you remember in Numbers 12 when Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses for marrying a Cushite woman, who almost certainly was of African origin, i.e. black? God did not agree with them; in fact, he was quite angry that they spoke against Moses, at all, and God never even mentioned the fact that Zipporah was black.
The only intermixing that God condemns deals with worship, i.e. someone who worships the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob should never marry or be involved with someone who worships a different god. The color of their skin is not important, neither is their language or their native land. We see this in the Bible, such as with Rahab and Ruth, just to name two. And the Torah is clear, more than once, that so long as someone “sojourns with the Israelites” (meaning converts to their lifestyle and form of worship, which for Jews is one and the same thing), then they are adopted into the family of God and have the same rights (and obligations) as the Israelites do under the covenants God made with them.
To put it all together, when God created different peoples at Babel, he actually gave us the opportunity to improve ourselves through hybrid vigor, which is also the best weapon we can use against racism. Racism gets its strength from ignorance- the ignorance of not knowing the other race. Once people of different races work and worship together, they learn that we are all the same. God created different races from the same mold, only he used different colored inks, and only after we interact with different races do we realize that we are all the same under the skin and that knowledge is what will defeat racism.
God made us in his image, no matter what color we are or which language we speak, and when he confused us at Babel it was really part of a plan to make us better in the future. It’s up to us to make that plan work.
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Until next time, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!