That generation had a dream of erecting a building so high that it would even reach the heavens.
There is a high-rise dream in Jacob’s life too. He envisioned a ladder that was so tall that the top was in heaven and the foot was on earth.
Why was Jacob not criticised for thinking so high?
First, he left it as a dream. Second, he was not motivated by personal ambition: unlike the builders of Babel, his aspiration was not merely “to make a name”.
Third, his thoughts were of God: on his ladder there were angels of God constantly ascending and descending.
The symbolism of Jacob’s ladder was of God and man in spiritual communication.
Like the men of Babel, and like the patriarch Jacob, we all have our dreams.
When we dream of status and power we run the risk of ending up in ruins like the generation of Babel.
When we dream of ideas, ideals and encounter with the Divine, we have a good chance of blessing and success.
When the Midrash analyses the Tower of Babel it suggests that it was not only the aim that was reprehensible but the way it was implemented. The driving force of the ambition led the builders to forget humanity and decency.
It did not worry them during the building works if a human fell down and was injured or killed, but only if a brick fell and was shattered. The lesson is that whatever task we embark upon it should not be at the expense of behaving like a Mensch.
Unfortunately history has not learned. High-risers still tend to climb to power at the expense of other people.
Some of our worst modern dictators have committed terrible crimes against their own people. The threat they pose to the world lies not only in their ambitions but their belief that human beings are expendable.