Deconstructing Migdal Bavel/2/en
Commentators present a spectrum of approaches to understanding what happened at Migdal Bavel and why the Torah opts to share the story with us. Many Midrashim (and some modern commentaries) interpret it as a tale of human rebellion against Hashem which is recounted in order to mock pagan beliefs and lay the backdrop for the selection of Avraham. Alternatively, several early medieval commentators view the narrative as simply a historical account of how the world was repopulated after the Flood and how God prevented mankind from committing the error of settling all in the same place. Finally, some later medieval and modern exegetes focus on the moral dangers inherent in centralized government or urban society, and they understand the text to be attempting to inculcate proper values.
A Polemic Against Paganism
Migdal Bavel was built as a pagan shrine and as a direct challenge to God's authority. Hashem's foiling of the Babylonian aspirations and claims of superiority set the stage for His selection of Avraham and his descendants as his chosen nation.
A History of the Resettlement of the World
When mankind attempted to settle together in one city, Hashem dispersed them in accordance with his plan that humans populate the entire world. The story thus comes to provide an account of how Noach's descendants ultimately spread out throughout the world.
Guidelines for a Moral Civilization
The building of the city was not a direct challenge to God or a violation of a specific commandment of His, but was rather undesirable because of the dangers of centralized power and urban civilization. The story thus comes to inculcate moral and political lessons and promote the healthier functioning of society. This position subdivides:
Insuring a Balance of Power
The story of Migdal Bavel is about the potential for abuse of power that uniformity and central control bring.
Curbing Material Pursuits
The story of Migdal Bavel is about man's chase after physical rather than spiritual rewards.