By Rabbi Chaim Weiner, October 30, 2008

"All on Earth had the same language and the same words" Genesis 11:1

People working together on a building project - what's wrong with that? Why destroy the tower of Babel and punish those who wished to build it? Don Isaac Abravenel was the leader of Spanish Jewry at the time of the expulsion from Spain. He scaled the ladder of success many times, and saw it all end in failure. He has a unique understanding of the fall of this tower.

Until the time of the tower, people lived and worked together in peace. But the primitive methods they used weren't advanced enough for such a large construction project. New management techniques were required. The tower brought about specialisation: planners, builders, day labourers. Specialisation brought about social stratification: leaders and followers, managers and workers.

As the work on the tower advanced, the harmony of society slowly disintegrated - until the tower collapsed. It wasn't lack of technical ability that doomed the project - the social fabric that had supported the structure simply unravelled.

The final result was the scattering of humankind around the world, for the ability to live together in peace had been lost forever.

Abravenel saw how the race to greatness can lead to failure. In one of his last letters he sums up his life experience: "[In my youth] I was in the courts and palaces of the kings, engaged in their service. I... spent my days in vanity, and my years in trouble, in getting riches and honour; and now those very riches have perished, by evil adventure, and the glory is departed from Israel.

"It was only after I had become a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, from one kingdom to another, and without money, that I sought out the Book of the Lord."

Last updated: 12:18pm, October 30 2008