© 2016 by Rabbi Zvi Aviner
Torah Class THEFT-3/King Nimrod, the Great Communicator
”Let’s build a city”
1: From democracy to tyranny
Last class we learned about the first generations after the Flood. The passion of the day, we said, was to settle the land, cultivate it and OWN it. They spoke one language, believed in the One True G-d, and lived in brotherhood and peace. In short: it was the dream of the UN coming true.
But the Torah tells us here that even when this dream society comes true, there is a possible trap waiting at the door: the development od ruthless Tyranny. That is the story of King Nimrod, the ruler who could read everyone’s heart!
King Nimrod ascent to power
Last class we read about the Children of Ham, Yeffet and Shem who spread all over Earth. Now the Torah focuses on Noah’s grandson Kush:
The Children of Ham ruling Earth
On Noah’s son Ham it is said:
“And the sons of Ham were Kush, Egypt, Put and Canaan,
And Kush begot Nimrod…” (Genesis 10: 6)
Noah did curse Canaan, but not his father Ham. In fact, Ham’s other sons became the first powerful rulers of Earth after the Flood. Their list includes Kush, Egypt and Put, all fathers of mighty nations and great civilizations who stretched from Central Asia to the Middle East and Africa.
Ham’s firstborn son Kush was the first leader of Noah’s Seventy Families of Nations. He is described as a righteous person, wise and admired by all. His name is still preserved in the “Mountains of Kush” around the Caspian Sea. The Torah does not elaborate much about him but the fact that he was the Nimrod’s father, a great merit, as it says:
“And Kush begot Nimrod.
He began to be a mighty one in the Earth.
He was a mighty hunter before YHVH.
Therefore they say: Like Nimrod, the Mighty Hunter before YHVH.
And the beginning of Nimrod Kingdom was
Babel, Erek and Acad and Calneh in the Land of Shinaar…” (Genesis 10:8-9)
Nimrod: the Mighty Man, the Hunter, the King
The verse describes four stages in Nimrod’s ascent to the throne:
(1) He was a ‘mighty man’ (What does it mean?)
(2) He was a ‘hunter before YHVH’ (How could the Merciful YHVH favor a hunter?)
(3) He became very famous, a nickname of a ‘Hunter before YHVH’
(4) His ”first kingdom” was Babylon (implying that later he ruled over the rest of the Seventy Nations of Noah)
The legends about King Nimrod hinge on several Hebrew words in the text, describing him:
1. The name ‘Nimrod’ means in Hebrew: “Let us rebel” (against whom?)
2. The word for a ‘king’, melech, means in Hebrew ‘a ruler who consults, nimlach.’ (Whom did Nimrod consult?)
From these words the rabbis constructed Nimrod ascent to power as follows:
Stage 1: Nimrod, who ruled over himself
The Torah first introduces Nimrod as a “mighty man.” This may simply infer that he was physically strong, a mighty warrior. But the rabbis said: “Who is mighty? Whoever controls himself.” Hence Nimrod was spiritually strong who controlled HIMSELF before he controlled other peoples. He did not subject himself to wine, drugs and sex. As he had learned from Noah, he TALKED TO HIS HEART (see our Ranbow class.)
Stage 2: Nimrod the King of the Animals
He hunted by his mouth
Nimrod was ”a hunter before YHVH.” YHVH loved him. How would a hunter of animals be a favorite of the Merciful YHVH?
The rabbis therefore taught: Nimrod ‘hunted’ animals not by his arrows, but rather by his ‘mouth.’ He could converse with the animals. The story is meaningful: So great were Nimrod skills as a communicator that he could even communicate with the animals. Here is the story:
When Nimrod was still a young, teenager prince his father King Kush conferred with Noah. “Grandpa,” Kush sighted, “my son Nimrod worries me!”
“Why? Is he a bad boy?”
“No,” Kush said, “he is smart and capable. He controls his desires. But he refuses to participate in the hunting games with his peers…they laugh at him and say that he is….weird. How then would he become my heir? Moreover…” Kush silenced, as if ashamed to continue.
“Speak out, my grandson,” Noah urged him.
Nimrod’s weird wish
“Grandpa,” kush continued in pains, “it seems that my son is out of his mind…when I ask him how would he be my heir, he says that he has no interest in ruling over people, and that he wishes to be…..the king of the animals!” Kush hid his face in his hands, trembling.
Noah and Naama exchanged glances. Noah then said: “Your son is very unique indeed, could we talk to him?”
“He is here, I’ve brought him with me” King Kush said, and he called in his son.
I want to be the animals’ king
When Prince Nimrod entered, Noah and Naama were stunned by the boy’s extraordinary beauty and dignified posture. His skin was dark (as the name kush means) and his body strong and muscular. His eyes shinned with wisdom. Naama could not let her eyes off of him. “Nimrod our great grandson,” Noah said softly, “your father says you wish to rule over animals. Why? Would you explain this to us?”
Prince Nimrod answered: “Has not ELoKiM blessed Adam and Eve saying that they’d rule over the Fish of the Sea and the Birds of the Sky? I wish to fulfill that blessing and become the ruler of all animals…”
“If so, why wouldn’t you hunt the animals by your bow and arrows and show them who is in charge?”
“No great grandfather, I do not want to kill them! I rather wish to be their king!” Prince Nimrod said.
“And how would you accomplish that?” Noah asked.
“I want to be their king…to consult them and understand their wishes. I want to know their tongues the way you and grandmother Naama did in the Ark at the Flood…”
The Miraculous Dress
Noah and Naama looked at each other with astonishment. Then they took the miraculous Dress of Cain, by which one could comprehend the animals. As you remember, Noah and Naama inherited the Dress when Cain was erroneously slain by Naama’s father, Lemech. Cain himself had inherited the Dress from Adam and Eve when he went to exile. Adam and Eve had received the Dresses back in Eden just before they were expelled to live on Earth. As a rule, whoever wears these Dresses is endowed by the ability to comprehend the animals’ languages and also see the Planet Earth from ‘above.’ But there was one condition: the Dresses’ magic wouldn’t work on someone unworthy of it. Now Naama and Noah wondered: would the Dress affect Prince Nimrod?
As they placed the Dress over Prince Nimrod’s shoulders, Naama and Noah were delighted to see that the Dress seemed to like the Prince. In no time the Dress took Nimrod to a mental trip where he saw Planet Earth from above, and where he could fly among schools of birds and fish and among herds of animals and comprehend their languages.
This experience would later on prompt Nimrod to build the Tower of Babel from where every man and woman would be able to see the Earth from above just as he had seen it.
When Prince Nimrod re finally re-appeared before Noah and Naama, the Dress hung over his shoulders like a royal garment. “Take it, from now on it is yours” Naama and Noah told him, tears in their eyes. And they added: “Use it only for good purposes!”
Nimrod: Let’s rebel against the hunters!
From thereon, young Nimrod was seen riding high above over eagle’s wings or driving in the woods over ferocious lions and huge elephants. Hence his new nickname, “Nimrod, the King of the Animals.” This is why the Torah says that he was “a hunter before YHVH.” He ‘hunted’ the animals by his mouth, calling them and consulting them…YHVH liked him.
At times he even assembled the animals and told them to ‘rebel’ against the human hunters. This is one reason for his name ‘Nimrod’ which means: “Let us rebel!”
Stage 3: Nimrod, the King Who Consulted
Kush’s haunting dreams
Several years passed and Kush conferred again with Noah, his face fallen. “Great grandfather,” he said, “I can’t sleep! A terrible dream haunts me night after night!”
“Would you tell me about it?”
“In my dream,” Kush said, “Nimrod sits on my throne. People tell him their petitions, yet he can’t comprehend them! He tries to answer them, yet they can’t comprehend him! Then…” Kush stopped, as if afraid to continue.
“Go on!” Noah encouraged him.
“Then…” Kush said with ash face, “I see a bloody rebellion, swords lifting…and my son beheaded and his body thrown to the dogs…Then I wake up trembling, sweating, my heart beating fast and I can’t sleep anymore. Moreover, that nightmare keeps haunting me night after night…What does Heavens try to tell me?”
A king is one who consult
“Heavens is telling you,” Noah said, “that your son is not yet ready to become your heir. He can surely communicate with animals but not yet with people; not enough to be their king. You must prepare him now for his task…”
“What should I do?” King Kush asked.
“Learn from ELoKiM. Before making Adam, He consulted all the entities that would participate in Adam creation, and to each one He said: ‘Let Us Make Adam in Our Form and Our Image.’ By this He taught Adam how to be a king: how to use the art of consultation to build an everlasting kingdom. Teach that to your son…” Noah said.
Counseling the Seventy Nations
They say that after hearing Noah’s words, King Kush smiled and he slept the first nigh in many months. Next morning he summoned the leaders of all the Seventy Noahide Nations to his palace. To each one he said, as they came: “In your opinion, how should I prepare my son to be my successor?”
And as King Kush anticipated, each of the leaders answered: “send your boy to me and I’ll teach him everything I know.”
Kush thanked them all and then called for his son. Prince Nimrod arrived at his father’s palace with two lions by his sides, scattering away the frightened attendants. “Father, why did you call me?” Prince Nimrod asked.
“My son,” King Kush said, “the time has arrived to prepare you for sitting on my throne. For that you need to understand not only the animals’ tongues but your human subjects’ wishes. I’m therefore sending you to visit all the Seventy Families of Nations. Each leader has promised me to host you and teach you everything he knows. Take advantage my son of their hospitality. Learn their mindset, their culture and aspirations. And as I know them, some may even whisper words of rebellion in your ears against me, thinking that by this they would later gain a better access to your court. But be careful my son and never forget who you are, my son and heir. And when you’ll finally return home I’ll hand over my crown to you and you’ll sit on my throne.”
Nimrod, let’s rebel against your father!
And so it was that young Prince Nimrod departed from his father and mother, and from the animals, and visited the entire Seventy Noahide Nations, spread over the Four Corners of the World. As his father predicted, each of the leaders welcomed him and taught him everything he knew. And when they whispered words of rebellion against his father in his ears, he remembered his father’s warning and remained loyal to him. Several years later when he finally returned home, King Kush welcomed him with great honor and placed his own crown on Nimrod’s head. Hence another reason for the name Nimrod: “Let us rebel against your father!”
So far we’ve seen several meanings for the name Nimrod:
1. Nimrod, let us rebel against morality, as teenagers say when they go partying.
2. Nimrod: Let us rebel against the hunters, the words he said to the animals.
3. Nimrod: Let us rebel against your father, the words his hosts whispered in his ears.
4: Nimrod, the hunter of people
“And the beginning of his Kingdom was Babel
and Erek and Acad and Calneh in the Land of Shinaar (Genesis 10: 10)
The verse says that the beginning of Nimrod’s kingship was the city of Babel. It would later spread al over the world. He understood well the meaning of king: the ruler who listens to his subject’s plights. His vast traveling made him a master of communication. He could read the mind and heart of every person or nation standing before him. He could read their desires behind their words, and to answer their needs and wishes as they had hoped. So skillful he was in this kingship that each person felt as if Nimrod was his personal king (Midrash.) This is another reason why he is called “a hunter before YHVH.” Soon his fame grew and spread all over Earth. This is why he was “a mighty man on Earth.”
Imagine: this was a society marked by
(2) spoke the same language
(3) engaged in one passion: to cultivate and own
(4) aspired to grow economically and create more wealth
(5) that recognized and respected each other borders
(6) had no organized theft.
Now they had
(7) one benevolent ruler whose ear was open for everyone’s wishes.
How could this ultra-democratic kingship of Nimrod become
the greatest tyranny on earth?
On that we’ll learn next class.