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Lost In Translation

From The Other Side Of The Bench

By David J. Seidemann, Esq.

I am all for unity. It’s a good idea and one that I believe we are taught to pursue, a concept that aids humanity and creates a civil society. So I was a bit confused when I read that G‑d had an issue with the generation that built the Tower of Babel.

“All the people were of one language and united in purpose.” What could possibly be wrong with that? Have we not suffered enough as a people because of internal strife and discord over the most petty of matters?

All right, who am I to argue with G‑d? But His solution to spread them across the globe and develop new languages seems a bit odd. If they were going to build a tower to challenge the Omnipresent, how does creating different languages solve that problem?

As you may recall from my previous article, my neighbor is doing construction on his house and all of the workers speak different languages. It does not seem to be slowing down that process at all.

And if the plan of mankind at that time was to challenge the heavens, the punishment does not seem to fit the crime. Man challenges G‑d’s word, so G‑d mixes up man’s words? Someone help me out here.

Well, help arrived recently as I was watching the news and saw a clip of North Korean soldiers marching in lockstep. Each soldier mirrored the move of his comrade. It was truly a sight to see and a lesson in synchronization. It was a fantastic display of “one for all.”

And help arrived as I read a story of a shul in Washington, DC: Aware of the government shutdown and that some members employed by the government might not be receiving paychecks, the management started serving breakfast in shul to save people money on their grocery bills. What a display of “all for one.”

As I see it from this side of the bench, there are two types of unity. There is “one for all,” where individuality is absent. Where the masses congregate for a common goal of a person or a movement independent of themselves, where personal accomplishment is not recognized. A “unity”’ where the individual has no voice, has no independent language, where no one speaks his language and certainly no one is interested in hearing that individual’s voice or recognizing his needs or accomplishments.

Then there is the other type of unity, where a community comes together and grows because of the individual talents and voices of all its members. A society where the “all” is geared to developing the “one,” lending support and power to each individual’s voice.

It could very well be, then, that G‑d’s problem with the generation that built the tower was not their failure to recognize G‑d but with that generation’s failure to recognize the individual talents and voices of their fellows.

Every man was the same; no individual talents were recognized. They were building a tower, a vertical society instead of a horizontal society. In a vertical society, one floor is constructed on top of the previous floor, obscuring that which is beneath it.

In a horizontal society, it’s all laid out in panoramic view so that each and every one is seen and heard.

The punishment, if you will, perfectly fit the crime. The generation that built vertically was spread horizontally. The generation that gave no individual language—no voice to the individual—that generation was handed a multitude of languages, so that in the future each person would be required to at least try to understand the individual expression of his neighbor.

“One for all” is not the epitome of unity. On the other hand, “all for one” not only builds a cohesive society, but also builds each individual.

Healthy relationships, like healthy societies, are maximized when each party feels safe and secure expressing his or her own opinion and own identity. It is not necessary for a government, school, shul, corporation, partnership, or family to always speak with one voice. What is much more important is that each voice be heard in determining a path forward.

Rational voices are to be considered and irrational voices are to be deflected with subtlety and respect, for not every voice is worthy of a solo, but every voice deserves an audition. v

David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or

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Posted by on October 17, 2013. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.