After the flood, Noah’s descendants, the nations, were separated. Here was one language and the whole earth was of common purpose. They built a tower in the valley of Shinar, which later became part of Babylonian territory. They said, “let us build a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves.”
R’ Eli Munk wrote that G-d destroyed their egotistical plans, and erected the impassable barriers of language and obliged them to depend on their individual resources and work patiently and efficiently for the greatest good of humanity. He quoted R’ SR Hirsch who commented that it would not be until Abraham that that there would be a call on mankind to glorify the name of G-d and teach charity and love rather than “to make a name for themselves”.
R’ Munk commented that organised society should have as its goal, not excessive conformity but a harmonious unity with each component participating according to its own calling.
Yeshayahu Leibowitz wrote that “one language and one speech” indicated centralisation or totalitarianism.The tower was a symbol of the concentration of all mankind about a single topic, where there will not be a struggle over different viewpoints, and different values. He wrote that in His mercy and compassion for mankind, G-d made a humanity where a totalitarianism of complete unity cannot be. People have to struggle for their values, their aims and their desires, all different from one another. History then becomes the account of the struggle of people against the crimes and follies, and disasters, and the fact that this struggle exists at all times in all societies is what grants moral significance to the history of mankind.
R’ Jonathan Sacks took this concept further by writing that G-d deliberately made the peoples to be different and that this required that they learn to respect this difference as part of their respect for G-d and His creation.