Parshat Noah

Towering Over Others

Global development means more than building and construction.

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The Torah indicates a second problem with Babel-esque development. It says that the people built the tower "to make a name for ourselves (Genesis 11:3-4).'" The builders had reputation and status on their agenda. The midrash adds that cultivating a reputation, "a name," is usually accompanied by inequality at the deepest level. Nimrod's project--like Dubai's--required enslavement of his people and abject inequality, all in the service of ego, arrogance and narcissism.

It is clear that these two towers were built with values contrary to sustainable, ethical progress. In the Jewish global justice movement, we toss around the word "development" a lot. Let our parsahah help us to define "global development," to teach us to distinguish between development that serves humanity and development that only benefits the wealthy or the ego. True development means building an irrigation system, helping farmers have a more consistent crop; building roads to provide rural people with access to education and medical care; building schools, centers of worship, community.

The midrash ultimately answers the question that the parashah presents: why did God destroy the tower? Why does God love (and even demand) some development but hate (and even destroy) others? The Jewish definition of development is that which is done for the sake of human and social betterment. This is why AJWS supports organizations dedicated to equality, health, access to resources and justice. When development is unsustainable, when it only benefits the rich and powerful, or when it becomes valued above life, it is development for its own sake, not true development at all.

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Rabbi Matt Carl

Rabbi Matt Carl is the associate rabbi of Congregation Mount Sinai in Brooklyn, New York, and is the campus rabbi at Hunter College in Manhattan. An alumnus of AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps, Rabbi Carl has integrated service and justice concerns with other traditional aspects of the rabbinate.