Rabbi Lazer GurkowRabbi Eliezer (Lazer) Gurkow, currently serving as rabbi of congregation Beth Tefilah in London, Ontario, is a well-known speaker and writer on Torah issues and current affairs.
Choose Your Tower
Two hassidic Rabbis riding in their carriages met in the middle of a bridge. One carriage was pulled by two old horses, the other, by a team of four powerful stallions. The rabbi with the old horses asked the other, why do you need such strong horses? Answered the other, to get to my destination quickly. And what if you are headed in the wrong direction, asked the first? Then I will make up for lost time more quickly when I turn around and correct course, replied the other.
The gist of their conversation was this: The first rabbi assumed that the other used the expensive showy horses for his own glory. The second rabbi assured him that it was for G-d’s sake. For His glory. The question before us is this, what kind of tower do we live in? Do our possessions and achievements bring glory to us, are they our tower, or are they for G-d’s glory, are they G-d’s tower?
The Torah tells us that in Abraham’s day, there was a people in Babylon that was punished for building a tower. Jewish mystics tells us that the generation of Jews that suffered in Egypt was a reincarnation of the tower generation and with their suffering they atoned for the sin of tower building. What is wrong with building a tower?
Let’s look at what the Torah tells us about the Tower of Babel. They said to each other, “Let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower that reaches the heaven.” Contrast that with the Jewish approach encapsulated by King David, “The Lord is great in the city of our G-d.”.” They built a city for themselves, and their tower reached the heaven to serve their city. We build a city for G-d.
G-d provides us with talents, successes, possessions, health, family and friends. We have a nice home and are grateful for all He gives us. Our tower reaches the heaven, we recognize that our tower, our successes, come from heaven. But is it our tower? Is it for our glory? Some of us glorify in our achievements even though we know they came from above. Further, in our prayers we demand more and are not satisfied with what we were given. We go forth and actively storm the heavens, build a tower that reaches the heaven, to seek more and more glory.
Our sages taught that all that G-d created is for His glory, not ours. The city that G-d builds is not our city, it is His city. Our towers, our talents, are not for our glory, they are for His glory. “The Lord is great in the city of our G-d.” You will notice an anomaly though. While the city is not ours, G-d is ours. When you perceive all your achievements as a glory to G-d, you haven’t lost your city, you have gained a G-d.
G-d has no need for a tower. He gives us a tower so that He can have a relationship with us, so that He could become our G-d.
G-d can’t have a relationship with angels because angels perceive that they are part of Him. Just like we can’t have a relationship with our arms or toes because they are part of us. To have a relationship, He had to create an existence that perceives itself as separate from G-d. A people capable of taking credit for the things G-d created; capable of claiming the tower for themselves. And with such people, who perceive themselves outside of G-d, He can have a relationship.
The only reason we are given a city, a good life, a wonderful family, health, wealth, good standing, is so that we can come to realize that they are not of our making, not for our glory, but for G-d. In other words, He gave us the tower so that He can be our G-d. So that we can choose Him and He can have a relationship with us.
Brick and Stone
The Torah tells us that the Tower of Babel was built with bricks. Our sages commented that there were no stones in Babylon. They did not mean to say that it was impossible to find stones in Babylon. They meant to say that in Babylon people did not give credit to G-d. They took credit for themselves.
Bricks are man made. Stones are natural; made by G-d. Babylonians of that age viewed their achievements as bricks, as man made achievements, so they built a tower out of bricks. Even as they demanded more from G-d, brazenly reaching up with their tower to heaven, demanding more and more, they built it with bricks. Telling G-d in effect, that they will take the credit for whatever He gives. To atone for this, the generation of Jews in Egypt were made to build cities and towers out of bricks.
But they came out of Egypt and built a tabernacle. The tabernacle is like a city and the Holy of Holies is like a tower. But it is not a tower for man, it is a tower for G-d. Today, that we no longer have a temple, our G-dly city is comprised of Torah and Mitzvah, and our tower is comprised of prayer.
Just as it is with towers, so is it with words. There are stone words and brick words. There are G-dly words and words of human convention. Words of Torah and prayer are stone words, words of mundane affairs, of human conventions, are bricks.
There are times in our day that are devoted to bricks and times that are devoted to stones. The question is, which is our tower? Do we invest in the bricks to afford time for the stones, or do we invest in the stones to gain G-d’s blessing for our bricks? The answer to that question determines which tower we are building, the Tower of Babel or the tower of the Holy of Hollies. It determines whether the tower is for our glory or to enable G-d and ourselves to engage in a beautiful relationship.
Put more spiritually, one might say this. Every Jew has a G-dly soul and an animal soul. When we engage in worldly affairs, we use our animal soul. When we engage in G-dly affairs, we use our G-dly soul. The question is this, can we recruit our animal soul to pray with us? Can we recruit our G-dly soul into our mundane affairs? This means, can we come to a point of faith and love for G-d, that even our selfish ego would want to pray and reach out to G-d? Can we reach a point, where every mundane endeavor is an opportunity to enhance G-d’s glory and thus engages our G-dly soul?
If we achieve this, we will have turned bricks into stones. That is the ultimate answer to the Tower of Babel. That is the ultimate Holy of Holies. That is the ultimate exodus from Egypt. The ultimate expression of our relationship with G-d.
 Pri Etz Chayim, Shaar Chag Hamatzos.
 Exodus 11:3-4.
 Psalm 48:2.
 Ethics Of Our Fathers, chapter 6.
 Stones and words are correlated: Just as stones build a house so do words build a sentence. Just as houses make up a city, so do sentences form an essay. Just as cities make up a country, so do essays make up a book. Etc.
 This essay is culled from Torah Ohr Shemot 87b elucidated in Sefer Hamarim Taf Resh Nun Hei pp. 100-107.