By Jacob Isaacs
Published and copyrighted by Kehot Publication Society
Conceit of the People
It was towards the end of Peleg’s life that something happened which changed the social life of all men on earth.
After the Flood, man had again begun to multiply and fill the earth. They all spoke one language and understood one another well. The generations of people before the Flood had been interested only in themselves; they thought of themselves as supermen and lived each one for himself alone; they used violence and force against their weaker neighbors, paying no attention to laws and rules. The new generation of mankind was different. They stressed the opposite code of living. The individual did not count for himself; he counted only as part of the community, and he had to subject his own interests to those of the group. Had they confined themselves to this kind of social life, all might have been well. But they overdid it. The tremendous strength that grew out of their organization and goodwill made them proud, and their pride made them turn against G-d.
They decided to build a tower which was to reach to heaven, to make them equal to G-d, and at the same time, to make it possible for them to stay together. This symbol of their divine strength, as they thought, was to be built in the valley of the Land of Shinear.
G-d decided to destroy their arrogance by destroying their ability to understand one another. He, therefore, confused the people by splitting them up into seventy different nations and tribes, each with a language of its own, (hence the name Babel, meaning “confusion”).
When this happened, the project of the Tower had to be given up. The various groups migrated in different directions and settled in all parts of the world. The Tower itself was partly burned and partly swallowed by the earth.
But even this severe punishment did not bring the people back to the ways of G-d. During the time of Nimrod, who was the grandson of Ham, the wickedness of the people increased tremendously. Nimrod had inherited the clothes of Adam, made out of the skin of the Serpent, and he was unconquerable. All the animals of the world obeyed him and kings recognized his rule. He proclaimed himself god, and images of his face were shown all over the country. People had to serve him and bring him offerings.
It was in this age of idolatry that a new star appeared on the horizon-the only shining star in a dark sky.