Noach: the power of the Tower

freedom of expressionCommunication can be a beautiful thing. Too bad it’s so very, very, very hard to do well. And we have this week’s parasha to thank (?) for it.

Most people pay attention to the story of Noah, since the parasha is named Noah. But way at the end of the parasha is the story of the Tower of Bavel, when we lost the ability to communicate with each other. We’re told here that all the peoples of the world spoke the same language at this point, “All the earth and a safat echad and dvarim achadim, one language and the same words. Odd-the plural form is used here to indicate the singular; dvarim (words) achadim (ones). What’s the difference between language and words? Why indicate both here?

Some say highlights the inherent tension between the oral and the written words. Writing is static, deliberate, planned, and can be revisited. Spoken language is fluid, dynamic, engages more senses and is ephemeral.   Good writing gains impact when it’s spoken….think Shakespeare and the Gettysburg address, which never fails to choke me up a little.

But some words, no matter the language in which they are spoken or written, can be communicated with power and intensity. Freedom. Justice. Injustice. Morality. Especially when they’re accompanied by pictures, which moves beyond words themselves.

I want to share with you an instance that throws these very ideas, these very words into light. A woman was standing on a train platform; she is a photographer, and had her camera with her. Across the way, on the other side, some young women began attacking another young woman. Some young men came along, not to help the woman being attacked, but to help the ones attacking her. The photographer captured all of this on film. The police asked her for the photographs, to open and investigate a possible hate crime. Have you formed an opinion yet about the players in this story?

Add some details: It happened on a train platform in Israel. The young women were from the settler movement. The other young woman was a devout Muslim, a Palestinian. During the attack, her head covering was pulled off, she was pushed and hit and shoved, verbally assaulted. The photographer is a secular Jewish Israeli, who is now being sued for having taken the pictures, out in public, open to all who witnessed it. Why the suit? The plaintiffs are pulling out all the stops with high-profile, well-funded legal teams to bury the photographer in fees and damages, claiming libel and more. Read more of the details here

Words have meaning. The people at the base of the Tower of Babel tried build a tower, to the sky “to make a name for [them]selves, lest [they] be scattered” (Gen 11: 4), invading God’s space and usurping Gods role as a creator of honor and legacy, and disobeying God’s desire that the people spread out over the world. God thwarted their desire by confusing their speech. But, still, some words are not confusing. Some words like “justice” and “conscience” and “freedom” aren’t confusing at all, in the face of “deceit” and “racism” and “hate”. To this day, we have words to tell a story, and I’m telling you this one. There’s one more word I want to add: family. The photographer is my family. If you are moved by these words here to find out more, and take action if you can, the Israeli version of Kickstarter , Mimoona, has been set up for her legal defense. Here are some other un-confusing words : help. And thank you.

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