Once, so the ancients say, the earth was swept away in a great deluge and afterwards it began afresh. The memory of this great deluge may have lingered on for generations, and accordingly people perhaps never quite attained the sense of well-being they had had before the Great Event. Maybe it was forgotten (the cynics say repressed) and as this was before the advent of history, their true sentiments were confined to oblivion. Either way, they tell us that the post-diluvians sought comfort in each other, in the feeling of a collective, and preferred to stay together rather than scatter across the earth. The Good Book also mentions that these closely-knit people were “of one language and of one speech” (Genesis 11:1), but leaves it to us to imagine what exactly is implied by this. It seems only natural that they should have sought to embody this sentiment in something grand, something monumental, something clearly visible, and what better solution than to erect a city, that most primal sign of civilization (“the outward sum of man’s nobility” says George Steiner). And in this city what could be better than to build “a tower whose top may reach unto heaven.” This edifice would be a beacon of certitude to be seen from afar securing thereby the city dwellers’ good name and recognition.
The ages have handed down many varying and incongruous accounts concerning the construction of this immense tower—but there is unanimous agreement on one detail: it ended in catastrophe. The tower was never completed, the city was eventually abandoned, and, worst of all, they whose greatest fear was dispersion were scattered “upon the face of all the earth.” “When a city is destroyed,” Steiner tells us, “man is compelled to wander the earth or dwell in open fields in partial return to the manner of a beast” since the destruction of a city is “one of the greatest disasters that can befall man.” This is something not easily forgotten. The post-diluvians may have forgotten the flood, but we, the post-Babelites, are always haunted by our lost city and its aspiring tower. We incessantly return to it, whether to idolize it or to condemn it, whether to hate it or to yearn for it, whether to describe it or take it to pieces—or perhaps simply to question it.
I want to do something similar to the
latter; not so much to question it, but
to be questioned by it. I would like to suggest that
What do I plan to do? I want to offer an exposition for a universal
One should realize that in both biblical and Confucian traditions the central notions are expressed in contradictory terms. In both cases the relation between the human community and the ultimate is presented as a riddle. When the answer to the riddle of mightiest is a mighty vertical edifice aimed at reaching heaven, it fails. A “vertical” structure of thought and action demands that the answer to the riddle is “God.” Yet, perhaps it can work as vertical and ideal. Perhaps a tower can be allowed differently, perhaps it could be built horizontally, but then it takes a change of thought, one that some might consider too grand.
In order to forward my claim, I wish to bring to the stand only one
witness, yet one who soars above all others: Franz Kafka. In “The Great Wall
First, then, it must be said that in those days things
were achieved scarcely inferior to the construction of the
... The tower failed and was bound to fail because of the weakness of the foundation. ...
... The Great Wall alone would provide for the first
time in the history of mankind a secure foundation for a new
The brief biblical story of
And the whole earth was of one language, and of one
And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the
And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. (Gen. 11:1–3)
In the pre-Babel blissful condition the whole earth was “one language” (safa achat)
and either “one speech,”
perhaps “few words,” or even “few things” (dvarim achadim). Davar, the singular of dvarim, can mean either “word/speech” or “thing,”
so one might care to modify the King James Version and read “And the whole
earth was of one language and of few things.” In other words, the Hebrew gives
us a sense of a simple world, one not complex in terms of structure and
organization, perhaps a world somewhat similar to that of primeval
We have some
He was a mighty hunter before the Lord…. And the
beginning of his kingdom was
The passage is traditionally accepted as connecting the mighty Nimrod
who settled in
And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. (11:4)
Having bricks, they planned to build a city for themselves with a high tower, as is typical to urban centers. Their impressive and extravagant plan perhaps came out of a hope that it would make them famous, that people would come from far and wide to admire the marvel of beauty and achievement. The question the story raises is whether they sinned so severely as to deserve such harsh punishment. What can be so wrong in the thought that with the aid of the city and the tower they would be able to make a name for themselves, to express their wish to be one community.
First the motivations should be examined, next the sin and the punishment. “Let us make us a name” and “lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” are the people’s two main motivations as stated to each other. The motives are strongly related: the positive “make us a name” and its negative modifier “lest we be scattered,” call for the understanding that under one name people may protect themselves from being scattered.
As for the fear of being scattered, unity and mutuality are central
values the Bible offers its adherents. Both the Bible and the Talmud encourage
humans to unite and live together. Adam and Eve, either created as a couple or
since Eve joined Adam, were not intended to live alone but as members of a
larger body, to which each member is obliged. The unification of the human
community is valued and is desirable; only when unified can the people of
What could be problematic with the first motivation, “make us a name”? The act of naming was given by God to human beings in the Garden of Eden. The power of names and naming can be observed already in the story of creation, when God creates and names consecutively. Hans-Georg Gadamer states that in the creation God conferred man’s dominion over others by permitting man to name all other beings. While God names Day, Night, Heaven, Earth, and Seas, man names all cattle, fowl, every beast, and Woman. In the first biblical story we receive the foundations for viewing language as essentially human, and seeing human beings as essentially linguistic beings.
Walter Benjamin discusses the idea that the reason for naming is for man to communicate himself to God. In this way, God’s creation is completed when things receive their names from man. Man is the only beast who names his own kind, and who was not named by God. God breathed his breath into man, which turned into life and mind and language. Therefore, man’s naming was originally God’s knowledge; language was then perfect. In sharp contrast to God’s knowledge stands the knowledge of good and evil that man acquired after eating the forbidden fruit. Benjamin writes:
Name steps outside itself in this knowledge: the Fall marks the birth of the human word, in which name no longer lives intact, and which has stepped out of name language, the language of knowledge…. The word must communicate something (other than itself). ( emphasis in the original)
According to Benjamin, the fall of man occurs when the purity of naming
is replaced by a judging word. The fall that made language a mediator laid the
foundation for the unavoidable multiplicity of languages. Hence, we can
understand the punishment in
Both unifying and having a name are vital in most human deeds as
prerequisites for knowing where to aim; no affiliation brings chaos. Yet, as
Benjamin hints, before a name is made language is simple and no sophistication
is needed, as if there are no parts, and there is unity. It seems that human
beings had a serious misunderstanding: they acted to make a name in order to
unify themselves, but this very act caused God to spread them on Earth, and
thus proved to be a significant misdeed. “What’s in a name?” asked Juliet when
she felt she was about to lose her love to an artificial creation such as name.
But that which was in a name, and eventually killed Juliet and her love, is
perhaps exactly the type of sin for which men were punished in
The motivations are indeed problematic, yet the punishment calls for a certainty that something was severely wrong. We read that
…the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. (Gen. 11:5)
God came down. Moses Maimonides (Rambam 1135–1204) prepares his reader for the remarkable outcome of this visit with an observation about the sense of the word “went down” (yarad), or descending, as stressing the gap between the perfection of God above and the shortcoming of human beings below. He writes,
The design of the Deity to punish man is, therefore, introduced by the verb “to descend”;…man here below is going to be punished.
If one still thought of God’s coming down as a reason to celebrate, the next passage does not leave much doubt. Something outrages the Lord, for when God comes down, it is not for a friendly visit. God reacts in ways that seem completely out of reasonable proportion to an apparently-innocent human deed:
And the Lord said, Behold, the
people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and
now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go
to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not
understand one another's speech. So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence
upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore
is the name of it called
The most puzzling aspect of the story is the feeling of an inappropriate divine reaction following the human project. After all, it was God who forced the people to sweat for the bread, and to live away from nature in urban settings; they just followed the verdict, so where did they go wrong? What aspect of their act deserved the severe divine response? The Jewish theory says that justice must rule in the divine government of human beings, and that God rewards good and punishes evil in ways that fit their deeds, for “there is no suffering without iniquity” (Shabbat 90:1).
The Talmud suggests that the
tower itself is the whole point of the story, and its height is perhaps its
offensive feature since it is meant to allow man to reach heaven and storm it
in various ways (Sanhedrin 109:1).
Or, perhaps the sin is not the tower but the behavior of its builders,
The sin, either the tower itself or the nature of its builders, either the occupation or the purpose, is not only a sin to God, but a sin to humanity as well. Leibowitz suggests that the story is not of one generation that wanted to build a tower that reached heaven; it is not an ancient legend. Every generation rebuilds a tower. The question is whether this is inescapable—are we predestined to re-erect a tower, which is fated to fail? I would like to consider a universal perspective through some literary reflections before moving on to a Confucian suggestion.
I wish to understand something about the foundation, not of the tower alone, but of the form of thought (and of deed) that brought it up. In the story of the Garden of Eden, Eve and Adam could choose to obey God, and thus to be more like humans. Instead, they aspired to be more like God; they ate the forbidden fruit, and thus sinned. God guided them to be human again by having them leave Eden to establish human communities, to work hard, and to utilize the knowledge of good and evil they had sinfully acquired for earthly aims. However, already upon their expulsion from the Garden, Adam and Eve were required to build their own cities, and thus were invited to their (or our) next fall. The city of Babel was built, a tower at its hub, and the tower had to fail.
Let us take a second look at Kafka’s suggested reason for the tower’s failure:
... The tower failed and was bound to fail because of the weakness of the foundation. ... 
Where can we look for a stronger foundation, and how can it be established such that the human project will be saved? We have realized that as soon as we place one slab on top of another, the lack of foundation is exposed. The builders of the tower of Babel were detached from the ground they stood on, where a relationship could be established between person and “ground.” Instantly a fracture appeared, and the predicament of collapse could not be avoided. The fracture in the Kafkaesque world is inherent in the human condition as soon as “the human condition” is defined as such: human beings versus something else. Wishing to understand the nature of this fracture, we realize that setting goals and applying means for reaching them is one sort of detachment, and hence a possible cause for it. Setting goals is done when a scheme is formed in advance, when we know our destination before we know how we are getting there. Setting goals, and striving to attain them by applying appropriate means, is a basis for many human deeds. Apparently, it cannot be appropriate in a religious setting.
When life is lived with the aid of supreme goals for which means of attaining them are set, people become detached from their own lives. Sometimes the tools turn out to be other living beings (sometimes even another’s life is used for the sake of one’s own, as if life was outside oneself). There is always a reason for acting in this way, and the “why” for which one acts as one does is another essential characteristic of the fracture. Explanations and excuses for motives, and steps taken in order to get where one wants to be, remove the focus from the person and his or her life to an external aim and a means for attaining it. At times we require answers even before setting a single step on the ground. We set goals toward which we start advancing. The fracture, intentional and planned, is motivated by a wish for a name and a form. Walking towards an objective, we sometimes forget simply to go on, where there are neither pits, nor traps, nor goals.
In the case of setting goals in this way, one is hoping for what one is lacking. The first step is distinguishing ”is” from “is not,” and “have” from “have not.” Then there is a need to walk and set our minds on that which we are lacking, yet we can never get there because we are lacking it. The “it” falls apart, because we cannot completely take over. We separate ourselves from our own way. The foundation, as Kafka says, is weak: we are limited, and we must be limited, in order to set for ourselves more goals, and to keep on hoping that some day we will attain some of them.
The problem of the tower of Babel’s foundation also appears in two stories by Jorge Luis Borges. Similarly to Kafka, Borges imagines a world that is a labyrinth enclosing enigmas “designed to be understood and participated by man”  In The Library of Babel Borges draws the inadequate and yet unavoidable human examination of the impossible problem of structure and foundation, a problem that is never to be solved. Borges portrays a post-Babelite world, in which people have a feeling of loss and dispersion and a wish to unite and find an answer. The story presents an anguishing impossibility, in a Kafkaesque spirit, of ever reaching the Book of books in a universe that does not allow for finding it. Borges describes “the universe (which others call the Library)”, which contains every possible book (with 400 pages, 40 lines on each, 80 characters per line) and every catalogue, with every possible answer for human uncertainties and quandaries. The narrator in the story was born in the Library, wandered in it in search of books, and prepares to die there. Past, present, and future are all written somewhere in the Library. All books look the same; no cover indicates the contents of a book. Within the Library lies the meaning of life, in a book that contains a personal code.
The trouble lies, again, in the structure. This Babel, complex and endless, is composed of infinite hexagons, all looking the same, with the same number of shelves, same number of books on each shelf, with identical locations and the same shape of entrance to each hexagon. The Library-universe has an inaccessible logic: everything is in it, yet nothing can be found. In fact, after centuries of people looking for the Book and not finding it, “nobody hopes to find anything.” Nevertheless, everyone’s lives are written somewhere inside, and hence are absolutely determined, with no possibility for change.
A world of this kind raises an enduring complex of unity, which does not allow any growth of identity. Beatriz Sarlo expresses the situation’s dilemma as a failure of human beings to change place and destiny: either life is predetermined by definite laws that cannot be recognized by men, hence change cannot occur; or society is absolutely random to the point where the mere chance of someone’s bumping into the Book is futile, hence leaving no space for change in life. Borges leaves us with a feeling that something inherent in the structure of the world we live in, or at least in our understanding of it, makes change impossible for us. He writes:
I suspect that the human species—the unique species—is about to be extinguished, but the Library will endure: illuminated, solitary, infinite, perfectly motionless, equipped with precious volumes, useless, incorruptible, secret.
… The Library is unlimited and cyclical. If an eternal traveler were to cross it in any direction, after centuries he would see that the same volumes were repeated in the same disorder (which, thus repeated, would be an order: the Order). My solitude is gladdened by this elegant hope. (emphasis in the original)
Borges suggests a reversed tower of Babel in the Library. Like the human-built tower it is useless for human beings, and similarly it endures while humanity is afflicted. Unlike the human tower, as a work of God it is eternal, precious, secret, and aimless. However, humanity is about to be extinguished without even starting to reconstruct the tower. In this case one may be gladdened that in the real Babel the communal project was extinguished, not the human beings themselves. The biblical story describes the law that human structures as always incomplete and doomed to fail. The inherent rapture in this understanding becomes explicit, as the order in the library (from the divine perspective) is exactly its disorder from the perspective of its uselessness to humanity. In biblical Babel, people tried to make a tower that would reach heaven; they were concerned with what they wished for rather than with God’s will. As a result, their project could never reach its end. In Borges’ “biblio-Babel,” the disharmony between divine plan and human search ends up even worse.
The permanent condition of looking for organization, but being unable to live with it, is expressed in The Lottery in Babylon. The story describes a similar situation, yet one more personal and more social. It opens: “like all the men of Babylon, I have been proconsul; like all, I have been a slave”. The story is presented as a nostalgic longing for an abandoned world called the Company. Every aspect of that world was ruled by lottery, reaching the point where lottery was “the basis of reality”. It was impossible to tell whether an event was a result of a lottery game or an actual Happening. Originally, the lottery was an innocent game of fortune: one drew a card and either won or lost. It evolved into a destructive betting, including cruelty and physical punishment; losing an eye or a limb became common. In fact, the narrator nostalgically recalls,
Look: the index finger on my right hand is missing. Look: through the rip in my cape you can see a vermilion tattoo on my stomach. It is the second symbol, Beth. This letter, on nights when the moon is full, gives me power over men whose mark is Gimmel, but subordinates me to the men of Aleph, who on moonless nights owe obedience to those marked with Gimmel.
The Bible is built into one’s body; the choice of the tattooed Hebrew letters (Aleph, Beit, and Gimmel) is not accidental. However, Borges himself questions the true sense of Babylon, and the role of the story, he raises the possibility
that it has never existed and will not exist...because Babylon is nothing else than an infinite game of chance. (emphasis in the original)
Either the Company ceased to exist, or it is eternal, or it is omnipotent, or the Company has never existed and will never exist, or it does not matter. In any case, there is nothing other than mere chance. One wonders: what is a society and what is its power? Can human society create a new order to life? This is exactly the essence of the Kafkaesque condition. The sin, unavoidably tragic, may lie in the motivations for action, in the weakness of foundations, and in the possible outcomes. Any wrong-directedness is a sin, and our lives are an endless reconstruction and collapse, not all in our own hands. Accordingly, metaphysically, we are lost in a Library; ethically, we are subjected to lottery.
Turning back to Kafka, he suggests that
If it had been possible to build the Tower of Babel without ascending it, the work would have been permitted.
Perhaps Kafka wishes to tell us that it is impossible for humans to build without ascending. Hence, as the tower was intended to shape human life, not just to be a monument, what is left for us then is, according to Kafka, to keep searching and digging. In fact, as he describes it, we are “digging the pit of Babel”; perhaps there is more hope in this directedness. God is thus represented in the riddle of “that than which nothing greater can be conceived,” and it is for us to understand in constant practice that as regards God, greatness is nothing to be measured. Perhaps Kafka implies that we should understand the deed as described in Genesis as an attempt to “de-riddlefy” the greatness of God. If the builders really believed a tower could be built whose top was in the heavens, and thus challenge God, did they mean that in point of fact “God’s greatness” is a matter of size? If so, humans can compete with it and perhaps build something greater. The devastating outcome of this attempt makes us think that perhaps one way to “repair” somewhat this acute human misconception could be by rethinking the idea of greatness as a riddle set by God and to respond to it in human life.
In the biblical story of the tower of Babel, the riddle was not seen. The idea of the greatness of God refers to a greatness that cannot be perceived in human reasoning, a greatness that amounts to “cannot be perceived not to exist.” As soon as “they” (or perhaps we) assumed simple concrete motives, such as to “make a name for ourselves” and “lest we be scattered,” for challenging the greatness of God, the human skill to abstract was compensated; God is an abstraction, an ideal. Hence, God came down.
Next, language was confused and they (or we, again) were scattered. In other words, now they had to deal with complicated structural forms to understand each other instead of calculating the height and material strength for the structure they aspired to build. Neither togetherness nor immense man-made structures are “greater” than God. Nothing is greater than God. God’s greatness is incommensurable. This is taught to them and to us with linguistic structures “greater” than towers. God in the story is represented again in a riddle—God is “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.” The basic structure offered in the biblical picture is one that is characterized by separation between human and divine; disharmony in the human community; and a realization of the way by means of being tested by God, in this case failing, just like in Eden. (Generations will pass before Abraham, to whom the toughest riddle and hardest test make sense, successfully responds: what is “give all you have—and gain anything you may have in one act.”)
Authors as great as Franz Kafka see the impossibility of responding to God by simplistic concrete means. There are also pictures in which divine and human coexist and co-create in one community, and Kafka is definitely familiar with them. In the present context , Confucianism suggests a picture in which the ultimate is among human beings, and not “above.” Generally speaking, in Confucianism, both human and divine are operative in the process of creating the human community. The relationship between the ultimate and the myriad of things (including human beings) can roughly be put such that ”things” exist in one organic whole; this whole is the Great Ultimate (Taiji), and any thing included in it is an essential aspect of the whole. Accordingly, humanity is related to the Great Ultimate as an essential characteristic of the whole. This relatedness materializes through human creativity, which is manifested in morality, especially the virtue of being human (ren).
In his Treatise on Humanity (Renshuo), Zhu Xi (1130–1200), the well-known synthesizer and systematizer of Confucianism, introduces humanity as a universal creative power, by means of its relatedness to “the mind of heaven and earth.” This mind is “to produce things” and is characterized by four qualities: origination, flourish, advantage, and firmness (yuan, heng, li¹, zhen ). Origination encompasses all four. Human beings, as the “products” of heaven and earth, inherit the mind of heaven and earth, and accordingly, man’s mind is characterized by four virtues: humanity, rightness, propriety, and knowledge (ren, yi, li, zhi). Humanity encompasses the four. Through Zhu’s parallelism, we can see that in human beings, humanity is origination, and origination in humans is first and foremost the origination of morality, the distinctly human trait. Zhu Xi claims that humanity is a particular virtue and yet also embraces all virtues as an expression of the idea that the One and the many (as its manifestations) are not contradictory.
Earlier, Zhou Dunyi (1017–1073), implied that humanity is origination in the spirit of the philosophy of change in the Xici (Appended Remarks) of the Yizhuan (Commentaries on the Book of Change), when he wrote, in the Book of Comprehensiveness (Tongshu)：
Heaven uses yang to produce the myriad things and uses yin to complete the myriad things. To produce is humanity (ren), to complete is rightness (yi).
The natural order uses yang for production and yin for completion; in human beings, accordingly, production is humanity, and completion is rightness. When Zhu Xi comments on these words, he chooses to guide the reader to Zhou’s first philosophical treatise, Diagram of the Great Ultimate Explained (Taijitu shuo), the focus of which is the idea of the Great Ultimate and its partaking in the human world. Through a concise reference to major ideas as different aspects of one enduring cosmological process, Zhou provides us with a Confucian picture, illuminating the significance of the Great Ultimate in the human realm. Zhou opens the treatise by maintaining that it is the Great Ultimate, also known as the Non-Ultimate (Taiji er wuji), which generates the world by yin-yang’s tranquility (jing) and motion (dong). This movement brings about the five phases (wu xing): water, fire, wood, metal, and earth. The five, being ultimately the one vital energy (qi), generate harmony and natural order. In their integration, Qian (Heaven) and Kun (Earth) constitute male and female, whose interaction produces the myriad of things.
When we refer back to the basic motivations for human practice, we find a basic unity of human and ultimate guiding the human deed, instead of the separation we learn from the biblical stories. The subject of Taijitu shuo is the continuity from Great Ultimate to all things, and in particular to human beings. The five cardinal human virtues (wuchang)—humanity, rightness, propriety, knowledge, and trust (xin)—are thus explained in this context as one of the aspects of the five phases, and hence, as a natural counterpart of the Great Ultimate. The Great Ultimate and the five phases are manifest in us in such a way that among the myriad things, human beings receive the five phases in their most complete form as moral virtues. (The sage is the ultimate human model for the attainment of the phases as virtues and is in perfect harmony with the natural order.) Our world and our lives are one whole of which the community is an aspect. Therefore, as Zhou Dunyi explains, it is said:
Yin and yang are established as the way of Heaven, the weak and the strong as the way of Earth, and humanity and rightness as the way of Man.
While human perfection amounts to accordance with nature, this perfection can never be understood as some spontaneous “natural order” (ziran) in the sense in which this spontaneity is detached from the human community. Rather, human virtues that demand awareness and effort play a major role in this harmony. The world in which human beings live is a human world, and humanity is the only applicable category by which a human being can describe and understand this world. Thus, when we refer to the motivations, there is neither separation nor disharmony between oneself and the ultimate, rather, there is an incessant attempt to unify cosmically and harmonize socially. Realizing the way cannot be accomplished through being tested by the ultimate; instead, it is attained through self-reflection. One should note that what is is what we are, not in a solipsistic manner, but, to the contrary, in an inclusive humanistic perspective— in other words, as human beings we are creators (of morality). We embody inherent moral categories, thus we necessarily meet our fellow human beings through these categories. In this way moral judgments are internal to human creation. Moreover, not only every deed in this world must be understood in moral terms, every existing thing in our world in this sense has an inherent moral value.
The way to understand the relatedness of heaven (tian) and human beings is not merely that the Great Ultimate is the cause, explanation, and justification of human life, but rather that the Great Ultimate is a part of human life and a disposition of human beings. Regarding this, Mou Zongsan suggests that there is a dual process of “immanentization, in other words, the descending of heaven’s mandate (tianming) as nature (xing), together with “transcendentalization,” in which the human heart-mind (xin) forms a triad with heaven and nature. According to Mou, together with humanity and with the heart-mind, sincerity (cheng) plays a major role in “the principle of subjectivity;”; it departs from oneself before becoming fully developed. Like Confucius, Mou Zongsan underlines the presence of an objective heaven with an emphasis on one’s subjectivity. According to the Confucian view, the way to unify with heaven is through a subjective practice of humanity. Mou Zongsan claims that
In the course of practicing ren...Confucius
manages to know Heaven....
Rather than the view in which heaven is the ultimate source of human activity, we learn that heaven is the “ultimate” in a different sense. It is “objective” in the sense that it can be known to human beings, insofar as it offers standards that prevent the relativism that could be the outcome of a theory that centers on human beings and their powers. By knowing heaven, we can improve human practice in such a way that heaven becomes human, rather than that humans become “heavenly.” Tang Junyi says, in a similar spirit, that in Confucianism man is one of “three powers” (Heaven, Earth, and Man) that communicate with one another. The individual is encouraged to employ his mind to the utmost and thereby to know his own nature through the knowledge of heaven. Exactly in the way that heaven and earth originate their outgrowth, human beings are the originators of humanity.
When we refer to community, we find a profound sense of harmony within its various aspects. When considered from the perspectives both of pure essence as substance (ti), and of concrete manifestations as functions (yong), in addition to its being an originator, humanity has other attributes that we usually relate to the ultimate. In Treatise on Humanity Zhu Xi takes the stand that “humanity is man’s mind, as both substance and function.” What role does the distinction between substance and function— which has major significance in Zhu Xi’s thought—play here? Generally speaking, Zhu Xi takes substance as that which has no specific shape itself, yet gives a form to all its specific instances. In the Aristotelian view, it is the subject of predication (that which cannot be predicated on anything else), and in the Leibnizian view it is, most importantly, the ultimate unity of reality. However, as Cheng Chung-ying remarks, unlike in Greek philosophy, “ti is recognized or experienced as holistic changing—and yet full of life and possibilities of value.” A substantial form is in itself imperceptible, yet it necessarily has perceptible manifestations or “functions” as “attributes” or “modes” through which we come to know it. More accurately, the function is a “use,” or an “application.” Therefore, “humanity” as substance is also, according to Zhu Xi, its concrete instances. For example, helping a fellow human in need, feeling compassion for someone in pain, or loving a daughter or son, are all considered human as functions of their substance. In this way, the function, as an action of a person is based on free choice. In other words, when we follow this understanding, we have to realize that a certain function (out of various possible functions) as a concrete expression of substance is the determinant of the moral act, which in itself is the substance for it.
The distinction between substance and function is traditionally considered a metaphysical distinction. The main debates of the Neo-Confucian Realistic (Lixue) and Idealistic (Xinxue) schools refer to the ontological status of substance and function as either two different kinds or two aspects of one reality. Yet, the distinction between substance and function is in neither school dichotomous: the recognition of substance entails functions, since there is an essential harmonious unity (tiyong heyi). This inseparability is implicit in the notion of reality, and can be applied in human practice. This unity has at least two different ontological implications, the first is cosmological, the other, moral. In this way, from the spiritual (or religious) perspective of Confucianism, the cosmology of substance-function unity amounts to the unity of the ultimate and the human being; from the practical moral perspective, this is the unity of knowledge and action, theory and practice .
It seems that Zhu Xi makes the distinction between substance and function primarily for explanatory purposes; he is restating Confucian morality in updated terminology. Turning back to the assertion that “humanity is man’s mind” as both substance and function, we have to understand that in other words, humanity, as substance, is the ground for our world as well as our thinking and reasoning about it, and yet our specific acts are the function. Humanity is the cause for action and its concrete implementation. Hence, the justification for moral actions is as human as morality itself; by means of unifying substance and function, it turns out that in humanity (as an abstract concept), the “highest” standard is the human. For example, the justification for one’s giving money to the poor (as a specific function) is not a divine command originated in divine understanding, but is rather a moral judgment inherent in our being. We are creatures for whom “being in need” and “giving” are innate and constitutive. In the same way that everything has a shape and a size, so it has a moral value. Exactly as when I see a chair I know it has a certain color, a certain shape to its legs, and a surface to sit on, I also know it is something that can be offered to an elderly person when necessary. The moral quality is innate not just in us but in concrete objects in the same way that other object properties are innate (this also touches an epistemological aspect). In this sense the “substance” of humanity has to be understood, and can only be understood as enfolding moral-practical significance. It cannot have reference otherwise. If in Judaism the needy have a God-given right to aid (tsedakah— “charity”) and the giver has an obligation to God to help (mitzvah—“command”), in the Confucian case the command is internal, and yet the sentiment and the deed are religious. Perhaps the sentiment most beautifully depicted in Zhang Zai’s (1020–1077) Western Inscription (Ximing):
Heaven is my father and Earth is my mother, and even such a small creature as I find an intimate place in their midst.
…All people are my brothers and sisters, and all things are my companions.
When the time comes, to keep himself from harm—this is the care of a son. To rejoice in Heaven and to have no anxiety—this is filial piety in its purest.
He who disobeys
… In life I follow and serve
So far we have seen that regarding motivation, since humanity is origination the world is presented to humans through unification, rather than separation. As a substance unified with its own functions, humanity can only be understood through harmony. The ultimate substance has the function of inclusive creation, and every created being or deed is its function. No substance can be defined and referred to except through its functions, and every function is ultimately referred to the Great Ultimate. However, the identification is not unilateral. Furthermore, the Great Ultimate is expressed in purely human terms.
Zhu Xi, in the discussion on the Great Ultimate in Conversations (Yulei), explicitly applies ren language to Great Ultimate:
What Master Zhou calls the Great Ultimate is a name to express all the virtues and the highest good in Heaven and Earth, man and things.
According to Zhu Xi, the Great Ultimate as expressed in Zhou Dunyi’s treatise is human virtues and the moral world. In simple “Western” language it is equivalent to saying that “God” is human; it is human life, world, and morality. In this sense humanity (as Taiji) signifies that the foundation for moral acts is morality itself. An implication of this idea may be that, the answer for what is right and what is wrong, as well as the reason for being moral, is that we are human; namely, we perceive and feel, we think and reflect. Using our human senses and categories of perception, we see that for human beings there is no other way to act other than in a human way.
The strongest example for the moral-human understanding of the Great Ultimate by both Zhou and Zhu is to be observed where qualities of the Great Ultimate can be attributed even to a single human being. Zhou writes:
As for the virtuous way being high and deep, enlightening people through education without end, and being truly equal with Heaven and Earth and the four seasons—who else is like that except for Confucius?
Zhu Xi completes the identification by commenting on Zhou’s passage regarding a single person as the Great Ultimate:
One whose way is as high as Heaven is yang. One whose virtue is as profound as Earth is yin. One whose teaching is without end like the four seasons is the five phases. Confucius must be the Great Ultimate.
The Great Ultimate as “morality” has an ontological status, and it is also moral in itself; a moral exemplar may be the Great Ultimate. There is no essential categorical distinction between the Great Ultimate and human beings. Hence, the strict dichotomy between the human and non-human spheres is neither possible from the practicable perspective, nor is it necessary for the explanatory requirement. In this way the foundation for humanity is human thought, act, and discourse; it is human life. Human thoughts, acts, and discourses are inherently moral. Humanity is its own foundation for it cannot and does not need to be found externally. Many interpreters saw Zhu Xi as a contributor to Confucian “metaphysics.” I take up John Berthrong’s stress that Zhu Xi was “an ethicist first and foremost.” Berthrong emphasizes the value of sincerity (cheng) as the process by which humanity is created and realized. Sincerity is among the central ideas constituting Confucian religiosity, thus, humanity being its own foundation receives a spiritual-religious sense.
Berthrong has reasons for rejecting the interpretive stand that is based on the reasoning that metaphysics must be considered the primary concern of Zhu Xi. Berthrong’s stance is in my eyes true to the spirit and hinge of Confucianism. Repetition of old ideas is not necessarily dull, and restating the obvious can be indispensable. In the Neo-Confucian context, showing the significance of notions like ren and cheng by means of metaphysical terms serves the teaching and validates its spirituality.
In this way, Confucianism’s ideal and concrete goal are one, since ultimate and human are one, and since perfection is always lacking. Thus, the ultimate is a value, not a “pure” fact (or value is a fact). As far as religion is about the ultimate, it exists in Confucianism. Yet, there is never a being “beyond” the human (this is in line with Mou Zongsan’s idea of “immanent transcendence”). In Confucianism Taiji as origination is the source of all things, actions, thoughts, and feelings. Taiji as substance-function unity is the unity of heaven and human, and practically speaking it is the unity of thought and practice. Cheng Chung-yi makes the necessary link that “in this sense, the Taiji is the dao, or the way of change”; and he brings as reference to the function of the way that the way “manifests benevolence and hides all its functions” (xian zhu ren, zang zhu yong). Humanity (“benevolence”) is dao and therefore it is Taiji. This brings us back to the Analects (Lunyu), 15:28:
It is not the Way that broadens Man,
It is Man who broadens the Way.
Confucianism and Judaism are both faiths of a way (as either dao or halakah). The way refers in both to human creativity, which amounts to a creation of morality. Our capability to broaden the ultimate (as the way) is also our responsibility as human beings. Broadening the way requires first and foremost a broadening of our minds; we broaden our minds to broaden the way.
One striking similarity shared by both traditions is the depiction of this way in its most concise form as a basic communal demand, formed by means of a negatively stated Golden Rule. The Analects reads:
Zigong asked, “Is there a single word which can be a guide to conduct throughout life?” The Master said, ‘It is perhaps the word ‘shu.’
Do not do unto others, that which you do not wish for yourself.”
(15:24; see also 12:2, 5:12)
In an almost identical manner, the Talmud offers a story in which someone asked the great scholar known for his strictness and severe attitude, Shammai, if he could be accepted as a Jewish convert on the condition that the whole Torah be taught to him in an instant; namely, while he was “standing on one foot.” The Rabbi Shammai pushed him away with the twig he was holding. Turning to Hillel with the same request, the man received the following answer:
Whatever is hateful unto thee, do it not unto thy fellow man. That is the whole of the Torah and the remainder is but commentary. Go, learn it.
(Babylonian Talmud, Sabbath 3.1)
In addition to the central metaphor of way shared by the traditions, and the centrality of the community, Confucianism and Judaism share features such as the religious exemplar as moral exemplar (either as shengren and junzi or zaddik and hassid), and the religious process leading to the attainment of exemplar status as education (either as xue or torah). In these senses a good basis for a Confucian-Jewish discourse exists. On this ground we should be able to learn from the important differences between the two ways, in order to extend our vision through a “negotiated rationality” (as coined by Peter Winch). Martin Buber suggests:
If that is religion, then it is just everything, simply all that is lived in its possibility of dialogue.
In other words, a dialogue is a sign of religion. Buber is versed in dialogue with East Asian religions, and for him dialogue is an important part of religion when viewed as a task given to humanity.
In the conclusion to All Under Heaven – Transforming Paradigms in Confucian-Christian Dialogue, John Berthrong mentions three different kinds of dialogue. First is an actual engagement in interfaith dialogue. This kind of dialogue “will cause people to change their minds and seek new ways of talking together to explore ultimate life virtues.” Such dialogue is certainly nonexistent when we refer to Confucianism and Judaism. Second, there is a conversation among theologians about “what can be received from these explorations,” and some critical correlation that will need to go on between the etic and emic dialogues for them to succeed.  This kind of dialogue is in its very first stages. As more and more studies are conducted regarding religious dialogue, with the aim of learning from our differences, still very little has been done so far with Confucianism and Judaism. The last arena of dialogue according to Berthrong is the most relevant to the present study. It is what Berthrong calls the “dialogue of the heart:”
While cooperation in terms of community life and explorations of meaning and truth are noble experiments, no religious dialogue is complete until the participants respond to the callings of the meditative heart…. The ability to speak from heart to heart relies on trust, understanding and the translation of the hopes and aspirations from one culture to another.
Berthrong believes that the dialogue of the heart can come only at the end of the process, and concludes with the optimistic note that the Confucian-Christian dialogue is well begun. Confucian-Jewish dialogue has not yet truly begun, at least not in the senses above. Nevertheless, I want to borrow the notion from Berthrong, and to cling to the belief that in the heart, in the particular case of Confucianism and Judaism, there is a way in which the dialogue is existent, even if not in its full sense. Moreover, René Goldman, one of the few engaged in Jewish-Confucian dialogue, reminds us regarding the heart that the Chinese word xin, like its Hebrew counterparts lev and levav, represents the bodily organ, as well as the seat of emotion and of thought: both translate as “heart” and “mind.” In Judaism and Confucianism, study combines in one process intellectual-moral growth and emotional maturation. Thus, one might wish to notice that “a dialogue of the heart” in these two instances carries an extended meaning of a double opening of minds and hearts toward each other. According to my understanding, this dialogue is of a very special kind; it is a dialogue of riddles. Religious life is a living riddle, which thus embodies the idea of a dialogue consisting in posing riddles and attempting at their response. In other words, if we are able first to spot the riddle that a particular text poses, and then contrast it with an equivalent riddle in a text from a different tradition, we may be able to create a dialogue that respects both the uniqueness and the universality of our texts and of our lives. A true dialogue between religions can occur only when one acknowledges both the uniqueness in the other and its power to reflect on ideas universally. The universal applicability of ideas and the way in which foreign ideas remind us of ideas in our own traditions bring us closer to each other. The concept of “that than which nothing greater can be conceived,” and that of “greatness which is minuteness, perfection with wanting, divine which is human,” are both riddles. The first is set to us from above as a test to respond to, the second is set to us from within as a mystery to decipher by self-reflection. Through dialogue we may extend our ideas; we may “negotiate rationality” and thus attain a broader, more helpful, foundation for belief.
Creating dialogues of this kind, we join Friedrich Heiler in his hope that the justification for dialogue among religions is “to improve relations between the adherents of different religious traditions.” However, I do not imply that there is a relationship between Judaism and Confucianism that should be improved. I do believe that an extension of ideas with the aid of ideas from foreign traditions may improve the flawed relationships we do have with other traditions.
To conclude, let us turn one last time to Franz Kafka. In The Great Wall and the Tower of Babel I see a suggestion for a possible universal foundation, which is very much in the spirit of dialogue I would like to create between Judaism and Confucianism. It refers to our foundations, and the structures that materialize from them. He writes that
...the tower failed and was bound to fail because of the weakness of the foundation.
... The Great Wall alone would provide for the first time in the history of mankind a secure foundation for a new Tower of Babel. First the wall, therefore, and then the tower.
The narrator tells us that “a scholar” wrote the story—he could be in Kafka, or next to him, or very likely in dispute with him. Moreover, even if an edifice of this kind is a possibility, “the tower” then is not a tower, the people will be scattered from the beginning, and heaven will never be reached. Kafka suggests that the tower of Babel failed because of the weakness of the foundation. It was meager, and restricted, and oriented to the goal of reaching Heaven. It was thus symbolically built one-dimensionally and consequently fell apart. The Great Wall alone would provide a secure foundation, as its movement is expanding and multi-dimensional. Rather than being oriented toward a goal, it is progressing in the manner of an ever-expanding ideal; it is constantly growing, yet never complete. In the pictures suggested by Borges and Kafka we may distinguish two types of “towers.” The first is motivated by an intention and a will to get “higher” and a hope to become greater. This tower was a product of a fracture in reality, and therefore had to collapse. It can also be pictured as constantly created (and destroyed). Yet, an alternative edifice may be built neither upwards, nor directed toward a goal. It may grow horizontally, expanding in a harmonious movement. This simultaneous movement merging into one reality can be pictured as a horizontal movement, as Kafka suggests. However, Kafka is aware that such a foundation has its own problems since
Human nature, essentially changeable, unstable as the dust, can endure no restraint; if it binds itself it soon begins to tear madly at its bonds, until it rends everything asunder, the wall, the bonds, and its very self.
History teaches us that the great wall became “the Great Wall” with Qin Shihuang, the Qin emperor who in 221 BCE conducted the work with a sin similar to that of Nimrod and the builders of the tower of Babel. Qin Shihuang was a repressive tyrant who tried to standardize human thought in the same way he standardized laws, weights, and measures. He believed that people were inherently evil (interestingly his second best-known project was the “burning of books”; perhaps standards that are somewhat “vertical” could have been helpful to him). Kafka is definitely aware of the implications associated with the example he is giving. Yet, perhaps the secret of the wall is its role as an emblem of evolution, built over 2,000 years, a span of time the biblical builders could not imagine, and it had open ends. Unlike Nimrod’s project, this project started as pieces of wall (from the seventh century BCE), and went on for centuries. (The wall was built and rebuilt under Han’s Wu Di; the greatest of all wall builders were the Ming who came to power in 1368.)
When Walter Benjamin refers to Kafka, he explains that Kafka lives in a complementary world He sees Kafka’s writings as parables by nature, their misery and beauty become more than parables, as they do not “modestly lie at the feet of the doctrine.” Perhaps there is place, not to stop living in our world, but to develop more complementary worlds that allow freedom of mind and action. Perhaps without abandoning vertical structures, foundations can become more horizontal.
 George Steiner, Language and Silence: Essays on Language Literature and the Inhuman (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), p. 200.
 See Cora Diamond, “On Riddles and Anselm’s Riddle” in The Realistic Spirit (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991), pp. 267–290.
 Franz Kafka, “The Great Wall and the Tower of Babel”in Parables and Paradoxes (New York: Schocken Books, 1935), p. 25.
 See Nehama Leibowitz, Iyunim Chadashim B’sefer B’reshit (Israel: Maor, pp. 70–71).
 The Hebrew reads: “Hava nilbena leve-nim ve-nisrefa li-srefa, va-tehi lahem ha-levena le-even, ve-ha-chemar haya lahem le-chomer.”
 Biblical references for the importance of community can be found in Deut. 5:18; Num. 16:22; Lev. 4:6; and Eccles. 4:9.
 Babylonian Talmud. Translations by Abraham Cohen, Everyone’s Talmud—The Major Teachings of the Rabbinic Sages (New York: Schocken, 1949), p. 187.
 Hans-Georg Gadamer, Philosophical Hermeneutics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), pp. 60–61. Despite my different preference, when I refer to Gadamer, Benjamin, and others, I follow their use of “man” to refer to humankind.
 Walter Benjamin, Reflections—Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writing,. ed. Peter Demetz (New York: Schocken Books, 1978), pp. 317–319.
 Ibid., p. 32.
 Moses Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed (New York: Dover, 1956), p. 22.
 In “Kafka and his Precursors” Borges implies that he sees himself a successor of Franz Kafka, whose greatness of voice and practice he recognizes in texts from diverse literatures and periods from Zeno to Kierkegaard. Labyrinths—Selected Stories & Other Writings (New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1962), p. 201.
In “The Lottery of Babylon” there is an almost explicit reference to Kafka; he sacred latrine for complaints to the Company was called Qaphqa. See introduction by James E. Irby, p. xix
 Moses Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed (New York: Dover, 1956), pp. 22, 23.
 Leibowitz, pp. 66–75
 Ibid., p.76
 Kafka, p. 25.
 In “Kafka and his Precursors” Borges implies that he sees himself a successor of Franz Kafka, whose greatness of voice and practice he recognizes in texts from diverse literatures and periods from Zeno to Kierkegaard. Labyrinths—Selected Stories & Other Writings (New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1962), p. 201.
In “The Lottery of Babylon” there is an almost explicit reference to Kafka; he sacred latrine for complaints to the Company was called Qaphqa. See introduction by James E. Irby, p. xix.
 Ibid., p. 51.
 Beatriz Sarlo, “Borges a Writer on the Edge,” Borges Studies Online. http://www.hum.au.dk/romansk/borges/bsol/bsi5.htm, p. 12..
 Borges, p. 58.
 Ibid. p.30.
 Ibid., p. 35
 Kafka, p. 35.
 Renshuo, pp. 720–721; see Chan Win-tsit, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1963), pp. 593-594.
 Tongshu I.11.1.
 Zhouzi quanshu, chs. 1–2, pp. 4–32. Chan’s translation: Chan 1963, pp. 463–464.
 Mou uses the notions “immanence” and “transcendence.” See Mou, p. 20. For a full discussion on the dual process, see Lin, pp. 405–416.
 See Lin Tongqi and Zhou Qin. “The Dynamism and Tension in the Anthropocosmic Vision of Mou Zongsan.” JCP, 22, 1995, p. 419.
 Mou Zongsan, Xingti yu Xinti. (Taipei: Zhengzhung, 1968-69), p. 21.
 Tang in Lancashire Douglas. Chinese Essays on Religion and Faith. San Francisco: Chinese Materials Center, 1981, p. 49.
 The Chinese character ti refers initially to “body” in the verb form “to physically contain” or “to embody,” and in philosophical discussion it can best be translated as “substance.” The character ti contains the phonetic li² “ritual vase,” which etymologically relates the word with the connotation of “organic form.” For an elaborate explication of the full sense of ti see Cheng Chung-ying. “On the Metaphysical Significance of Ti in Chinese Philosophy: Benti and Ti-Yong.” JCP 29:2, June 2002, pp. 145–147.
 Ibid, p. 147.
 Ibid., p. 153.
 For the various positions toward substance and function, see Chan 1963, pp. 485–489, 596–597, and 696–697.
 See Cheng 2002, pp. 154–156.
 Ximing, in Chan 1963, pp. 497–498.
 Yulei 11.118, see Chan 1963, p. 640.
 Tongshu II.39.
 John Berthrong. “Master Chu’s Self-Realization: The Role of Ch’eng.” PEW, 43.1 Ja. 1993, pp. 161–162.
 John Berthrong. “Chu Hsi's Ethics: Jen’ and ‘Ch’eng.’” JCP 14 June. 1987, p. 163. An interesting presentation of sincerity in accordance with Zhongyong is to be found in chapters 1–3 of Tongshu, where Zhou takes his reader through the nuances of the distinction between “sincerity being the foundation of the sage” (ch. 1) to its being sagehood itself (ch. 3). Joseph Adler discusses the various and sometimes contradictory expressions.
 For views that emphasize the metaphysical shift in Neo-Confucian thought see for example Wing-tsit Chan 1963, p. 460; Chan 1987, pp. 108–112; Carsun Chang, 1963, p. 140, pp. 153–158; A.C. Graham 1967, pp. 153–168; Wm. T. de Barry in Nivson and Wright, 1959, p. 33.
 It is interesting to compare the present view with A.C. Graham’s view in Disputers of the Tao about the absence of the fact/value dichotomy in classical Chinese thought on the one hand, and with his ideas regarding correlative thinking on the other. Graham initially believed that the absence of a fact/value dichotomy reflects a lacuna in Chinese thought, and that the Western tradition is, in this sense, superior to it (p. 323). later, however, he changed his view, seeing this “monism” as an advantage of Chinese thought.
 Cheng 2002, p. 154. Reference to Xici section 5 of the Yizhuan. Cheng elaborates extensively on the perspective of dao as creativity; see for example Cheng 1989.
 Martin Buber, “Dialogue,” The Martin Buber Reader, ed. Asher D. Biemann (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), p. 193.
 John Berthrong, All Under Heaven – Transforming Paradigms in Confucian-Christian Dialogue. (New-York: SUNY, 1994) p. 186.
 Berthrong, p. 187.
 René Goldman, “Moral Leadership in Society: Some Parallels Between the Confucian ‘Noble Man’ and the Jewish Zaddik,” Philosophy East and West, vol. 45 (3), July 1995, pp. 329–365.
 In Eric J. Sharpre, “Toward a Dialogue of Religions?” Comparative Religion—A History (Illinois: Open Court, 1975), p. 250.
 Kafka, p. 25.
 Ibid., p. 27.
 Walter Benjamin, “Some Reflections on Kafka” in Illuminations—Essays and Reflections (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), pp. 143–144.