By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
I would like to share with you part of a dialogue I am in the midst of with a local young man:
I noticed in the Babel story: “עם אחד ושפה אחת” which simply says the one people spoke one language, and there is no mention that the language is Hebrew. Is it aligned with Orthodox tradition to say that the language could have been a language other than Hebrew?
— Steve K.
The Talmud and Rashi comment that “one language” means “lashon hakodesh,” meaning “the holy tongue,” otherwise known as Hebrew; as it is the “one” language, namely the language of “the One.” It’s the language God spoke to create the universe, and the language which our tradition holds is what all of mankind spoke up until the moment that God “mixed up their tongues” in the Tower of Babel story.
I’m a bit confused how a language could be used to create the universe for a couple of reasons:
1. God is omnipotent, so it doesn’t make much sense for him to rely on something else such as a language to create the universe instead of doing so directly.
2. Language is a method of communicating concepts — it would be a higher form of power to simply create things from ideas instead of taking the extra step of turning those concepts into language. I’m assuming here that the language would be used in some transcendental fashion since God has no mouth, and it physically wouldn’t make sense for the words to actually be spoken.
I mean, I get that there were 10 utterances, but to say that it was in Hebrew instead of some divine mechanism that transcends human language doesn’t really make sense.
God’s omnipotence is not a contradiction to His utilizing words to carry out His will, as we shall see.
As you may have heard, we believe there are 10 spiritual worlds, or “Sefiros,” which emanate from God’s throne and descend, step by step, down to this world. God expresses His will and bestows both His blessings and exacts judgment through the medium of these 10 levels of Godliness.
The omnipotent God certainly could carry out His will directly without going through all these layers, (and actually does so, at times, such as through open miracles), so why all these 10 levels?
A flesh and blood king has a chain of command, from his closest advisors down to the runners who deliver his messages. The king’s subjects wouldn’t respect him as the royalty he is if he dealt with them all directly, hence the need of a multilayered chain of command.
The Heavenly King, in order that we should recognize His royalty and greatness, established a heavenly “chain of command” of the 10 Sefiros through which He would carry out his will.
An important part of that “chain of command” are God’s “words”; the 10 utterances by which He created the universe over the six days of creation. Those utterances coincide with the 10 Sefiros and actually form their essence, the understanding of which is beyond the scope of this letter.
Another point of this is that when God “spoke,” the main thing He actually created was the word itself! The word, “dibur” in Hebrew, is the same spelling as “davar,” the object. This means two things.
Firstly, the object is nothing more than the external expression of a deeper meaning; namely the word. The dibur is crystallized into the davar.
Secondly, whatever concept God wanted to express in the world when he “spoke” was deeply programmed into the fiber of that object created. From here on, the purpose of that object or creation, its very essence, is to continue to “speak” that word of the expression of God’s will by virtue of its very existence. The davar, the object, remains the dibur, it continues to speak that which God spoke to bring it into existence.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.