The Mabul (the Flood) and Migdal Bavel (the Tower of Babel) are undoubtedly the two primary stories in this week's Parsha. However, each of these two stories is preceded by a seemingly irrelevant genealogical record. Why does Sefer Breishit devote so much attention to "sifrei toladot" (list of genealogies)?
This week's shiur [better known as the 'Migdal Bavel vort'] introduces our study of Sefer Breishit by explaining how its "sifrei toladot" help form its structure and develop its theme.
Our basic assumption in our study of Chumash is that each "sefer" features a unique theme which can be identified by carefully following the sefer's progression.
Therefore, as we explained in last week’s introductory shiur, to uncover the theme of each sefer, we take the following steps:
|1)||First, we attempt to define as general as possible short title for each "parshia". [When we speak of "parshiot" we refer to the division of Chumash into parshiot "ptuchot" & "stumot".] Then we record these short title in order on a vertical list.|
|2)||Then, we analyze that list by grouping its "parshiot" together into units, where each unit reflects a more general topic. [This division into units resembles the division of a book into chapters. ]|
|3)||Afterward, we then group these chapter-like divisions into even larger units that share a more general topic or theme. [While doing so, we will also often examine these larger units and search for recurring patterns or key words (or phrases) that appear significant.]|
|4)||Finally, we determine the overall theme of the "sefer" by studying the progression of theme from one general unit to the next.|
The following shiur will serve as an example of the implementation of this methodology.
From a List to an Outline
To begin our shiur, we first list all the 'parshiot' in the first fifteen chapters of Sefer Breishit, combining only the most obvious groups of "parshiot":
|Psukim||Basic Topic||General Topic|
|1:1-2:3||7 days of Creation||Creation of nature|
|2:4-3:15||The Gan Eden story||Gan Eden ("hashgacha")|
|3:22-24||Expulsion from Gan Eden||"|
|4:1-26||Kayin & Hevel||(outside Gan Eden)|
|5:1-31||Toladot from Adam to Noach||Mabul|
|6:5-8||Reason for Mabul (Hashem)||"|
|6:9-12||Reason for Mabul (Elokim)||"|
|6:13-8:14||Story of the Mabul||"|
|9:18-29||Cham's sin, Shem's blessing||"|
|10:1-32||Toladot "bnei Noach"||The 70 NATIONS|
|11:10-32||Toladot Shem until Terach||Avraham Avinu|
|12:10-13:18||Lot & Avraham||"|
|14:1-24||War of 4 & 5 kings||"|
|15:1-21||Brit Bein Ha'Btarim||"|
[Note how this pattern continues until the end of Sefer Breishit, for the story of each of the Avot is also introduced by "ayle toldot..." (see Parshat Toldot and Va’yeshev) (see board #1). I recommend that you review this list using a Tanach Koren, to verify this division into topics based on the parshiot.]
Study this list carefully, and take note of the grouping of various parshiot into general topics. You will notice that each major topic relates to God's intervention in the history of mankind as He punishes mankind for their sins.
More interestingly, though, each of these general topics is introduced by a presentation of "toladot" [genealogical records]:
|The toladot from Adam to Noach (chapter 5) introduce the story of the Mabul (chapters 6-9).|
|The toladot of Noach's children (chapter 10) introduce the story of Migdal Bavel (11:1-9 / the Tower of Babel).|
|The toladot from Shem to Terach (chapter 11) introduce the story of Avraham Avinu (chapters 12-...).|
In fact, surprising as it may sound, even the story of Gan Eden (chapters 2-3) is first introduced by "toladot":
"These are the toladot of the heavens & earth..." (see 2:4!)
The following table summarizes this pattern and shows how the "toladot" introduce each main topic of Sefer Breishit. As you review this table, note how the first several topics all relate to "chet v'onesh," God's punishment of man (or mankind) for his sins:
|2||Toldot Shamayim v'Aretz|
|2-4||Man in (and out of) Gan Eden|
|5||Toldot Adam - The genealogy from Adam until Noach|
|6-9||ha'Mabul - The story of the Flood|
|10||Toldot Bnei Noach - The genealogy of Shem, Cham & Yefet|
|11:1-9||Migdal Bavel - The story of the Tower of Babel|
|11||Toldot Shem - The genealogy from Shem until Terach|
|12-||God's designation of Avraham Avinu|
Although this is rarely noticed, the sifrei toldot actually create the framework of Sefer Breishit! This pattern continues until the very end of Sefer Breishit, as we later find toladot of: Yishmael (25:12); Yitzchak (25:19); Esav (36:1); & Yaakov (37:2).
Essentially, then, the toladot introduce every story in Sefer Breishit from cover to cover (see board #1). Before we proceed to explain why that is, we must first take a minute to explain what the word toladot means.
What's a Toladah?
"Toladot" is derived from the Hebrew word "vlad," child. Therefore, "ayleh toldot" should be translated as, "these are the children of...".
For example, "eyleh toldot Shem" (11:10) means, "these are the children of Shem," and thus introduces the story of Adam's children - Shet, Enosh, Keinan, etc. Similarly, "eyleh toldot Noach" introduces the story of Noach's children - Shem, Cham, and Yefet. [See Rashbam on 37:2 for a more comprehensive discussion.]
Some of the "toldot" in Sefer Breishit are very short, simply informing us that the person lived, married, had children and died (e.g. the generations from Adam to Noach). Other "toldot" are very detailed, e.g. those of Noach, Terach, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. Nonetheless, every story in Sefer Breishit is presented as an integral part of someone's "toldot."
But this explanation calls into question the first instance of the word "toldot" - i.e. toldot shamayim v'aretz. How do the heavens and earth have 'children'?!
The answer to this question is both meaningful and fundamental to our understanding of the nature of man. Recall that the first chapter of Breishit tells of God's creation of shamayim v'aretz (heavens and earth) from 'nothing' (ex- nihilo). The first instance of the word "toldot" appears right in the very next chapter:
"eyleh toldot ha'shamayim v'ha'aretz b'hibaram..." (2:4)
What are the toladot of shamayim and aretz - what are the ‘children’ of heaven and earth? If we follow the progressive pattern of Sefer Breishit (as demonstrated by the above table), then "toldot shamayim v'aretz" must be referring to Adam ha'Rishon. Man is, in essence, the offspring of shamayim and aretz, formed and fashioned by the union of heaven and earth. In other words, even though shamayim and aretz appear to have been divided in the first six days of Creation [by what is known as "rakiya" - see 1:6], it seems as though man in Gan Eden reflects the possibility of a connection between them! Man embodies the reunification of shamayim and aretz, as both elements are contained within him. This interpretation could help explain the significance of the pasuk describing man's creation in perek bet, which actually begins this chapter:
"And Hashem Elokim formed man from the dust of the earth and blew into his nostrils nishmat chayim - the breath of life." (2:7)
[This second ingredient - the nishmat chayim - may reflect the aspect of man which comes from (or at least returns to) heaven.]
The next set of toladot are the descendants of Adam until Noach, followed by the toladot of Noach, etc. This pattern continues through the very end of Sefer Breishit.
These "sifrei toladot" do more than 'keep the sefer together'; they develop the theme of Sefer Breishit. The short toladot, which mention only the person's name and that he had children, reflect the natural development of mankind, while the detailed (and generally more lengthy) stories within these toladot depict God's intervention in the history of mankind.
This manner of presentation is significant, for it teaches us that we are to find the Hand of God throughout the development of civilization, especially - but not only - within major historical events.
The Two Sections of Sefer Breishit
Although the listing of the toladot, as mentioned, stretches throughout Sefer Bereishit, it clearly divides into two distinct sections:
|1)||God's creation of mankind (chapters 1-11)|
|2)||God's designation of the Avot (chapters 12-50)|
Section one (chapters 1-11) deals with mankind as a whole, without singling out one group of people over another. True, Noach earns special attention. But this is not because he is designated to become a special nation. Rather, it is because through him mankind will be preserved. The seventy nations (see chapter 10), representing all of mankind, evolve from his children. Certainly, Shem and Yefet receive special blessings, but the concept of a special nation with a special covenant does not begin until the story of Avraham Avinu.
Section two (chapters 11-50) begins the story of Am Yisrael, God's special nation. In this section, Sefer Breishit is no longer universalistic, but rather particularistic, focusing on God's establishment of a special nation.
In chapter 11, the Torah records toldot Shem (see 11:10) which introduce the story of Avraham Avinu, whom God chooses in chapter 12 to become the forefather of His special nation. The remainder of Sefer Breishit deals with the issue of who specifically among Avraham's offspring are chosen [= "bechira"] - Yitzchak and Yaakov, and which offspring are rejected [= "dechiya"] - Yishmael and Esav.
[Note that Sefer Breishit concludes with the completion of this bechira process, when all twelve sons of Yaakov are chosen and from which point no one is ever again rejected. This may explain the significance of Yaakov's name change to Yisrael - see shiur on Parshat Va'yishlach.]
Our final table summarizes how the "toladot" form the framework of these two sections of Sefer Breishit:
I. Universalistic(chapters 1-11) - Creation of mankind
|Perek||Toldot||The Story of...|
|1-4||"shamayim v'aretz"||Man in (and out of) Gan Eden|
|5-9||from Adam to Noach||"dor ha'mabul" - the Flood|
|10-11||Bnei Noach to 70 nations||"dor ha'plaga" - Migdal Bavel|
II. Particularistic (11-50) - God's choice of Am Yisrael
|Perek||Toldot||The Story of...|
|11||from Shem to Terach||leads up to Avraham Avinu|
|11-25||Terach||God's choice of Avraham & Yitzchak|
|25||Yishmael||his 'rejection' ("d'chiya")|
|25-35||Yitzchak||Yaakov and Esav (their rivalry)|
|37-50||Yaakov|| the 12 tribes/ Yosef and his brothers|
70 "nefesh" go down to Egypt
Understanding this table (= the sequence of the "toldot" in Sefer Breishit and their division into two distinct sections) will be very helpful in our search for the overall theme of Sefer Breishit.
What ties these sections of Sefer Breishit together? Why the sudden change of focus from mankind in its entirety to one special nation? Or, in other words, why does God single out Avraham Avinu specifically after the events of the Mabul and Migdal Bavel?
If our assumption is correct, that each sefer in Chumash carries a unique, prophetic theme, then the ongoing progression in each sefer presumably relates to its respective theme. Therefore, to identify the general theme of Sefer Bereishit, we must take a closer look at the structure created by these "toladot."
Shem & Shem Hashem
Recall from the above table that each general topic is introduced by a set of "toladot." These units also share common endings. Namely, each unit concludes with an event relating in some way to the concept of "shem Hashem."
Let's begin with our first unit, the story of Adam ha'rishon. This section closes (at the end of chapter 4) with a very peculiar and enigmatic pasuk:
"And also Shet gave birth to a son and called him Enosh, then he 'began' to call out in the Name of God ['az huchal likro b'shem Hashem']." (see 4:26)
[See commentators. Some claim that "huchal" may denote man's 'defiling' of God's Name (shoresh "chilul") by failing to call in His Name properly - see also Rambam Hilchot Avodah Zara I:1.]
No matter how we explain the difficult term "huchal," it is clear that God intended for man to 'call out in His Name.' Significantly, as mentioned, this pasuk concludes the section which began in 2:4 with the story of Gan Eden. Even though man was banished from Gan Eden and Kayin was punished for murder, God still has expectations of mankind - that they search for God, that they 'call out in His Name.'
Despite this high expectation, the next series of "toladot," which leads into the story of the Mabul, shows that man's behavior fell far short of God's hope. Ultimately, God decides to destroy His creation and start all over again with Noach. This unit, which begins in 5:1, concludes in chapter 9 with a special set of mitzvot for Bnei Noach (9:1-7), a covenant ("brit ha'keshet" [9:8-17]), and finally with the story of Noach's intoxication (9:18-29).
And in this final story of the unit we find once again a reference to shem Hashem. After cursing Canaan for his disrespect towards his father, Noach blesses his son Shem:
"Blessed be God, the Lord of Shem..." (see 9:26-27)
It is not by chance that Noach names his son "Shem." This name is most likely based on his hope that his son would fulfill God's anticipation that man would call out b'shem Hashem, as explained in 4:26!
[It is for this reason that Chazal consider Shem the founder of the first Yeshiva - "yeshivat shem v'ever" - the center of learning where Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov all studied.]
Noach blesses Shem in the hope that he and his descendants will indeed fulfill this goal. Once again, however, the next generation fails. Chapter 10 introduces the next unit beginning with "toladot," this time the development of the seventy nations from the children of Shem, Cham, and Yefet. As do the two preceding units, this section concludes with a story about shem - the story of Migdal Bavel. Only this time it's the wrong shem!
When reading the first four psukim of the story of "migdal Bavel," it is hard to pinpoint one specific sin. [Note, however, the frequent usage of the first person plural.]
"Everyone on earth had the same language and the same words. And as they traveled from the east, they came upon a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to one another: Come, let us make bricks and burn them hard... And they said, Come let us build us a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and we will make a name for ourselves - v'naaseh lanu shem - lest we shall be scattered all over the world. Then God came down to see...." (see 11:1-7)
From a cursory reading, it is not clear what was so terrible about this generation. After all, is achieving 'achdut' (unity) not a laudatory goal? Furthermore, the investment of human ingenuity into an industrial revolution, the development of man-made building materials and the manufacturing of bricks from clay seem to reflect the positive advancement of society and culture. What's wrong with building a city and a tower? Why was God so incensed, to the point that He decided to immediately stop this construction project and disperse mankind?
Chazal's criticism of this generation focuses on its antagonistic attitude towards God (see Rashi 11:1). One key phrase in the Torah's depiction of the tower's purpose reflects the egocentric nature of this generation:
"v'naase lanu shem" [we shall make a name for ourselves]." (11:4)[See Sanhedrin 109a.]
Rather than devoting themselves to the Name of God, this generation removes Him from the picture altogether. The builders of the tower united for the unholy purpose of glorifying man's dominion and power.
Although this generation's behavior is far better than that of the generation othe Flood, God was still disappointed, as what emerged was an anthropocentric society (i.e. man in the center), rather than the desired and anticipated theocentric one (i.e. God in the center). Their primary aim was to 'make a name' for themselves, not for God. Once again, God's hope that man would "korey b'shem Hashem" never materialized. He thus found it necessary to 'scatter' mankind, most probably in the hope that the next time the nations gather it would be for a more ideal purpose.
From "Briyah" to "Bechira"
With the conclusion of the Migdal Bavel incident, the unit that began in chapter 10 with "toldot Bnei Noach" ends. Immediately thereafter begins the next unit - "toldot Shem" - where the story of Avraham Avinu unfolds.
Hence, Migdal Bavel should not be viewed as just another story about mankind, nor simply as the history of the development of language. This seminal incident sets the stage for God's designation of Avraham Avinu, for it becomes the destiny of Avraham, the primary descendent of "toldot Shem," to restore God's Name to the history of civilization, to correct the grave error of Migdal Bavel!
Therefore, it should come as no surprise to us that when Avraham Avinu arrives in Eretz Canaan he climbs to Bet-El, builds a mizbayach, and 'calls out in God's Name' (see 12:8).
It should also come as no surprise to us that much later in history, Isaiah speaks of the final goal, when all mankind will unite once again to ascend the mountain of God, to the Bet Ha'Mikdash in Yerushalayim - the "tikun" of Migdal Bavel (see Isaiah 2:1-5).
However, as this week's shiur is only supposed to cover Parshat Noach, we will have to wait for next week's shiur on Parshat Lech L'cha to appreciate the fuller meaning of God's historic calling to Avraham Avinu.
For Further Iyun
A. In light of our discussion, we can better appreciate a puzzling statement of Ben Azai:
"Zeh Sefer toldot ha'Adam... It is taught - Rebbe Akiva says, 'v'ahavta l'ray'acha kamocha' - love your neighbor as yourself - klal gadol ba'Torah - This is a great principle of the Torah. Ben Azai says, 'zeh sefer toldot ha'adam' (5:1) - klal gadol m'zeh - is an even greater principle." (Yerushalmi Nedarim 9:4)
How could the dry genealogical record from Adam to Noach found in Breishit 5:1-32 constitute or signify any important principle, let alone one more important than the famous dictum that one should love his neighbor as himself!? One could suggest that Ben Azai's statement is not referring specifically to the genealogies, but rather to the overall structure of Sefer Breishit as formed by the toladot and thus, by extension, the sefer's overall theme. Although it is very important to 'love thy neighbor,' the theme of Sefer Breishit - that Am Yisrael must lead all mankind to a theocentric existence - is an even greater tenet of our faith and national destiny.
B. What other parallels (or contrasting parallels) can you find between Yeshayahu 2:1-6 and the story of Migdal Bavel? [Be sure to relate to "bikah" and "har"!]
C. See Zfania 3:8-9 and its context, especially - "ki az eh'foch el amim safa b'rura, li'kro ku'lam b'Shem Hashem, u'luvdo shchem echad." How does this relate to our explanation of Migdal Bavel?
Now, see Seforno's introduction to Sefer Breishit, and note his explanation of the progression of events from the mabul until God's designation of Avraham Avinu! Can you see how the Seforno understood this pasuk in Tzfania? [Be sure to find where he 'quotes' it.]
D. Am Yisrael is later commanded in Sefer Dvarim to establish the Mikdash "ba'makom asher yivchar Hashem l'shakeyn shmo sham"! (Dvarim 12:5,11). Relate this to our discussion. (See also Shmuel II 7:22-27 and Melachim I 8:42-44).
E. The suggested thematic connection between Migdal Bavel and the "bchira" of Avraham Avinu is supported by the Midrash that states that Avraham was 48 years old when he recognized God for the first time. Avraham Avinu reached age 48 in the same year that Peleg died (see Rashi on 10:25) which, according to Chazal, corresponds to the precise year of Migdal Bavel - 1996 from Briyat ha'olam. Recall that Avraham was born in year 1948!
F. In case you "can't wait" until next week, here's some preparation for next week's shiur on Avraham Avinu & Shem Hashem:
When Avraham Avinu first arrives in Eretz Yisrael, he builds a mizbayach at Bet-El and calls out b'shem Hashem (12:8). After his sojourn in Egypt to escape the famine in Canaan, Avraham returns to this mizbayach at Bet-El and once again calls out b'shem Hashem (13:4 / see also 21:33).
After reading this entire section (12:1-13:4) carefully, try to explain why Bet-El is the focal point of Avraham's aliyah.