The whole earth was of one language and of common purpose (Beresheet 11:1)
After the Flood, humankind began to develop and advance technologically. New inventions made farming more productive, thereby enabling mankind to grow more food to meet the huge nutritional needs of the exploding population. Another great advancement was the discovery of a way to make bricks. Using these new building blocks, people could construct shelters and live even in locations that did not have stone quarries. This newfound knowledge allowed the new generation to find a place where all could live together in comfort and harmony.
One might think this would create a utopia. On the contrary, the unity of language and the advancement of technology sprouted conceit and rebellion against the Creator in Heaven. Nimrod encouraged the construction of a tower so high that mankind could wage war against Heaven. Even a flood could not destroy those who rose to the heights.
In contrast, the Torah relates the story of Ashur. “From that land Ashur went forth and built Nineveh, Rehovoth-ir, Calah and Resen between Nineveh and Calah, which is a great city” (Beresheet 10:11, 12). Rashi points out that when Ashur saw his children listening to Nimrod and rebelling against Hashem by building the tower, he left the city and moved elsewhere.
I knew a man who was a manager for a major American importer of garments from the Far East. In the days when overseas communication was difficult and travel to far-off places burdensome, major companies placed key personnel in foreign countries and paid them a premium to live abroad. It was very difficult for an observant Jew to reside in such places, but many took the opportunity to do so while their children were young. They assumed their offspring would not fall prey to foreign influences at a tender age, and the families would relocate once the children were somewhat older. Meanwhile, they would glean compensation they could not earn at home.
One such man was very successful at what he did and his company counted on him to be their on-site eyes and ears, protecting their interests. One day, the bell that signaled the non-Jews’ time for worship rang throughout the city. The businessman’s four-year-old daughter dropped to the floor and spread out her arms and legs, mimicking what she had seen her non-Jewish neighbors do when the bell sounded. The man trembled in fear. As soon as he regained his composure, he told his wife to start packing.
“We are going home!” he declared. “I cannot risk the future of my children for monetary gain.”
Today, over 40 years later, this man, z”l, can smile down from Above at his children and grandchildren, who are all Torah-observant, G-d-fearing people.
The unity of the people of the generation of dispersion is legendary. Ashur was unique in that he saw the dangers of existing side-by-side with bad friends and neighbors. As much as we praise the benefits and desirability of unity, we still must beware and guard ourselves from “bad neighbors.” Unity is commendable when people get together to fulfill the Will of Hashem. Misguided unity can reach the depths of rebellion against Shamayim, chas v’shalom.
In today’s “small” world, we may find it difficult to filter inappropriate relationships out of the lives of our family; however, difficulty is no excuse. We all must get closer to the ideals of the Torah and heed the warnings of our Torah Sages. We must realize that disunity is sometimes the proper path to spiritual success. One who does one’s best to pursue a Torah lifestyle will merit assistance from Above to succeed in that effort.