In Noah, this week’s Torah portion, we learn about the Tower of Babel. Following the generations of the flood humanity united speaking a single language. They resolved to build a city with a tower. They wanted to build a tower “whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”( Genesis 11:4) God came down and saw what they are doing. There we read:
And the Lord said, ‘Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Come let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech’.So God scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did confound the language of all the earth: and from there God scattered them abroad upon the face of all the earth. (Genesis 11:6-9)
While we can argue about their motivations in building this tower, for now, I want to think about what they were feeling after the tower came down. How did these people deal with being scattered all over the world and their inability to communicate with each other? It sounds horrible. The fear of being alone itself helps me understand their motivation to build the tower at the start of this story.
I was thinking about this feeling this week when I saw a video of the comedian Louis C.K. on the Conan O’Brien Show. Louis C.K. gives a classic rant against cell phones pointing out why connected devices are especially “toxic” for kids. In this short 5-minute piece, which I encourage you to watch, he gives his insights about the role of technology in our lives.
He makes it sound so simple. Louis C.K. says:
I look around, pretty much 100% of the people driving are texting. And they’re killing, everybody’s murdering each other with their cars. But people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want to be alone for a second because it’s so hard.
Why are we so afraid of being alone? He goes on to say:
You need to build an ability to just be yourself, and not be doing something. That’s what the phones have taken away — is the ability to just sit there like this. That’s being a person, right?
Cell phones are toxic because we never experience being alone. I imagine this to be a similar feeling that they must have had after the Tower of Babel came down. Being in touch with this emptiness makes us want to fill that void with authentic and meaningful communication. If we are not in touch with being alone we will never truly appreciate the people in our lives. After the learning about theTower of Babel, you sort of want the cell tower to also fall. We would not have more meaningful relationships in our lives if the cell phones were not in the way? At the least we have Shabbat to unplug.