THEFT-4/Nimrod the Tyrant and his Tower of Babel

Noahide Seven Commandments Torah classes

© 2016 by Rabbi Zvi Aviner

Torah Class THEFT-4/Nimrod the Tyrant and his Babylonian Tower

”Let’s build a city”

We are learning about Noah’s Fourth Commandment, THEFT. We have learned about theft ’done by the generation before the Flood. This sort of THEFT was committed on individual level, like by Tubal Cain’s s gangues. Now the Torah takes us to Abraham generation where THEFT was performed in a large scale unknown before, by armies and Empires invading each other to grab territories and manpower for LAVERY. This ORGENIZED THEFT would be the target of Abraham’s struggle.
But this new level of ORGANIZED THEFT did not arrive without the preceding saga of King Nimrod and the fall of his Tower of Babel.

From Democracy to Tyranny

As the Torah says, the beginning of Nimrod’s Kingdom was Babel (Genesis 10:10) inferring that later he became the ruler of Earth.

Moreover, at the beginning he was a ‘king,’ a benevolent ruler who ruled by the art of consultation (as the Hebrew word for king, melech, means.) Later, however, he became a dictator who consulted no one.

How did this transformation occur? How could his dream society, the envy of the UN, turn into an oppressive, ruthless tyranny, without lifting a sword?
The question is important since it has a direct implications to us. We would like to know how a democratic society CAN degenerate into tyranny.

1: The impact of the new brick technology

King Nimrod could have remained a benevolent, ‘democratic’ ruler forever, had not a new technology of making bricks changed his society forever; as it is said:

“And it came to pass as they journeyed from the east
That they found a plain in the land of Shinaar and they dwelled there.
And they said to one another come, let’s make bricks and burn for a fire
And the brick served them as stone and the mortar served them as clay…”
(Genesis 11: 1-3)

Social change
We are very familiar with the impact of new technology on the social structure. We have been seeing that happening in front of our eyes day by day.
The story of the conversion of King Nimrod to a tyrant began with such a new technology. The verse says that they discovered a new way to build by strong bricks. This prompted a new wave of building projects like city walls and towers. Archeology findings confirm the massive build up that took place about 2500 BC first in Mesopotamia then in Egypt. This was done not by slaves but rather by free young farmers who left their farms to join the new building-projects in the cities. These volunteers spent several months at the projects, enjoying good food, good company and entertainment they could not have back at home. They were thrilled to participate in a project bigger than their own family farms. Moreover, on the building projects they met other young people from all over the country and exchange with them ideas and share the same experience. On the project they developed the sense of belonging to a LARGE ORGANIZATION, more powerful than their farms. Scholars say that these huge building projects served to form the notion of nations and social structure.

Moreover, the workers loved to join the projects and were proud to take part in them. KING NIMROD, the master of listening to the human heart, took a note of it.

2: Let’s see Earth from above

“And they said: Come! Let us build for ourselves
A city and a tower whose top shall reach the sky
And let us make a name for ourselves
Lest we be scattered all over the face of the whole Earth.”
(Genesis 11:4)

The verse describes the workers’ words. They aspired to participate in the building projects “for ourselves,” for their own sake. King Nimrod, the mater of listening, provided them with increasingly larger building projects. Seeing ho happy they were to join, he made the buildings taller and larger.

“A city and a tower whose top shall reach the sky” It was King Nimrod who planted the idea of the Tower in their minds. He told them: ‘I wish everyone to see the Earth the way I have seen it, riding on eagles’ wings’ (or wearing Naama and Noah’s Dress.) So convincing he was that they thought that the idea of the Tower came from them.

3: Let us make a name for ourselves

“And let us make a name for ourselves
Lest we be scattered all over the face of the whole Earth…”
(Genesis 11: 4)

King Nimrod discovered their lust for fame
The secret of their thrill, King Nimrod discovered, was the opportunity to make names for themselves. On the project they could climb up in rank, fame, titles, honor, something they could not have back on the farms. King Nimrod saw that and took advantage of it.

Thrill of Specialization
“Let us make a name for ourselves” Like in any large organization the building-project required specialization. One worker excelled in making bricks, the other in climbing on a scaffold and another in cooking and so on. Becoming a ‘specialist’ made one proud; and adding a title to one’s name increased his social status.

The thrill of hierarchy
The Tower introduced a new social hierarchy: simple workers, managers, supervisors and those who supervised the supervisors; King Nimrod at its pinnacle. Some workers arose in the hierarchy while others remained at the bottom. Yet, to their merit, brotherhood prevailed. They were united in pursuing the goal of the Tower Project: to see the Earth from above.

Some say that their goal was IDOLATRY, to fight G-d in Heavens. As we’ll see, this would take place later.

A name on the bricks
“Let us make a name for ourselves a name.” King Nimrod allowed the workers to “make a name for themselves” by engraving it on a brick, on a corridor, on an entire floor or a whole wing. This established the builder’s fame for generations.

How big was the Tower?
“Let us build a tower whose head is in the sky…” We do not know the real size of the Tower. Tradition says that is was PLALNNED as a 27×27 square miles base, reaching 27 miles height. It seems an exaggeration, but the Tower was certainly an enormous undertaking on a scale unknown to Mankind before or after. It required thousands and thousands of workers and would have taken hundreds of years to accomplish. Successive waves of workers came and gone. Generation passed and the Tower was still being built. A whole new culture developed around it. Songs were composed to its glory and stories of heroism were told from fathers to sons.

Industry around the Tower
We can imagine the great impact of the Tower on the economy. The workers needed to ORGANIZE food, clothing, shelter and services, even entertainment on a large scale. An evidence for that is seen in the archeological diggings around the Egyptian Pyramids. The Tower of Babel, like the Egyptian Pyramids prompted entire industries around it. This created wealth and a power, especially for those who set at the top, like King Nimrod.

Nimrod the godlike tyrant
Gradually, even unintentionally, King Nimrod’s status became divine-like. To the workers at the bottom of the hierarchy he seemed unreachable, concealed by an army of subordinates. His words became the law. No one challenged his authority, because everyone enjoyed the economical boom and was proud of belonging to the important, national endeavor.

The Tower as a metaphor for our economy structure
The Tower presents a metaphor for our economical activities.
Our economical activity is a rotating circle, where products and services move in one direction from hand to hand, and money and compensation move in the opposite direction from hand to hand.
In the process, we enlarge the circle by introducing new products and new services. The money keeps flowing in the opposite direction but in increasing sum. The new circles depend on the older ones underneath them, so that in time a Tower of economical activity is rising up to the sky.

Every time a new major product or service is introduced, a new industry is introduced. Each industry, each corporation, is a tower by itself: the workers at the bottom, few owners and executives at the top. If the corporation is large enough, the top executives are almost divine, unreachable to the simple workers.

Successful the Tower Project was, but it enraged YHVH, as it is said:

4: YHVH response to the Tower

“And YHVH came down to see the city and the Tower
which the Children of Adam were building.” (Genesis 11:5)

YHVH and Her Court came down
The phrase “And YHVH…” infers ‘YHVH and Her Court’ (Rashi.) In fact, the rabbis derived from here that a human court should also ‘go down’ to the crime scene to be impressed firsthand.

What constitutes “YHVH’s Court?” This could be the Angels, or ELoKiM the Attribute of Judgment. ELoKiM is not mentioned explicitly, for YHVH’s reaction is at our focus. YHVH was hurt by the Tower. Why?
Note that in ELoKiM’S eyes the Tower did not raise any problem, since none of His Law was breached! It was the Merciful YHVH who came down in rage!

Hence something ‘evil’ took place at the Tower Project, something so bad that enraged YHVH. She ‘came down’ to see if that evil did really take place! What could this evil be?

Tradition says that the building project had become HEARTLESS and MERCILESS. As the Tower grew taller so did the risk of accidents. The Tower toppled three times, once down to its basement (Midrash.) Workers were injured or killed on a daily basis. Working on the project became increasingly hazardous. The Tower lacked a safety net,. And YHVH hated it.

Moreover, despite the increasing risks, Nimrod pushed hard to finish the Tower at all cost. A new war-like mentality and vocabulary set in. The workers told each other: ‘Let us conquer that floor,’ or ‘let’s overcome nature.’ Hence Nimrod’s name assumed a new meaning of “let us rebel” against nature. This military frame of mind elevated Nimrod’s status to the sky.

5: Nimrod, let’s rebel against the Merciful YHVH!

As one point human life became so dispensable that the organization became supreme to the individual. When a worker fell to the ground holding a brick, his fellowmen lamented the lost brick rather than their comrade (Midrash.) Indifference to the human life turned into cruelty, in the name of the project; a thing that enraged YHVH. Henceforth Nimrod’s name assumed a new meaning of “Let us rebel against YHVH.”

And moreover, as the Tower got taller, so did Nimrod’s ego. The old democratic ruler was gone, replaced by an arrogant dictator that saw himself as a god like. And YHVH hated this since “YHVH and an arrogant person can’t dwell in the same room,” as we’ve learned.

6: The Heavenly Court’s Decision

“And YHVH said: Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language,
And now nothing will be withheld from them to do
That which they have schemed to do.
(Genesis 11: 6)

Any heartless organization can achieve those goals
This verse is one of the most important in the Torah (you can say this on any verse. YHVH acknowledges here that any Selfish, Indifferent and Heartless human organization CAN achieve its financial or political goals, even reaching the sky!

We live in ELoKiM’s world which is NOT based on MERCY and COMPASSION. Surrounding us is a jungle I which the stronger species survives and prevails. A corporation (or a society) that follows those Jungle Laws and deals with its competitors and its workers in a heartless way, WOULD achieve its social and economical goals. A corporation that looks only at the bottom line and its stock market would certainly prevails in this economical jungle where we live.
The corporation would be successful, only that it would also enrage the Merciful YHYVH.

7: YHVH disrupted Nimrod’s Communication skills

How did YHVH destroy Nimrod’s power?

“And YHVH said, come, let’s go down, and there confound their language
that they may not understand one another speech…”

YHVH could overturn the Tower or shower on it brimstones and fire as She would later do the Sodom. Instead, She destroyed King Nimrod’s communicating skills.

It happened this way: At first, YHVH ‘confused’ the workers’ language so that they could not comprehend one another. One would ask for a hammer and get waters instead. Or one would ask for a brick and get wood, and so forth. The workers were confused.

And when they complained to Nimrod, he couldn’t comprehend their language. When he answered them, they could not comprehend him. The awful dream of his father, King Kush, came true.

They scattered

“So YHVH scattered them abroad, from there upon the face of the Earth
And they ceased to build the city, therefore is the name of it called Babel,
Because YHVH did there confound the language of all the Earth,
And from thence did YHVH scatter them abroad upon the face of the whole Earth”
(Genesis 11: 8-9)

The old sense of brotherhood dissipated. The purpose of the Tower was to organize humanity around one project, make them one people. YHVH interrupted the process and they dispersed to the four corners of Earth. King Nimrod fell from power and the Tower finally collapsed.

The world after the Tower

The people dispersed and the old sense of brotherhood was gone. But the memories of King Nimrod and his enormous Tower survived. Moreover, people understood now the power of large organization. The lust to make oneself a name, a title and fame only increased.

People tried to emulate him.
After Nimrod, others tyrants came and built their own cities and towers. They tried to preserve the social pyramidal structure of the Tower, with few royalties at the top rulling over masses of workers at the bottom.
Only that whereas Nimrod’s power was based on voluntary work, the new tyrants based their power on the sword.
At first, say the scholars, the royalties oppressed their own poor. The new cities were based on local oppression. But soon the rulers discovered the new way to accumulating wealth: invade other cities and grab their people to slavery.
Soon Empires were consolidated to conduct ORGANIZED THEFT efficiently. Huge armies moved around, grabbing territories and manpower from one nation to another. The new economy became based on forced ABDUCTION and SLAVERY. This is the world into which Abraham was born ten generations after the Flood.

Here are words told by Karen Armstrong in her book: “Fields of Blood,” 2014
THEFT in society

“The world’s first civilization was the federation of city-states in Mesopotamia. This fertile land was first settled in massive way around 4500 BCE. The settlers dig irrigation canals and ditches between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and used bricks for their homes, city walls and towers.

The first ruler who built a wall around the city to defend it from strong looters was Gilgamesh, the king of the Uruk, at 2750 BCE. He was an oppressive, cruel tyrant whose people complained bitterly about his unscrupulous exploitation of them. He forced the peasants of the city and their young men to work in the fields and build the wall. The society composed of many poor, spoiled peasants who worked for the few privileged ones, who took most of the agricultural products for themselves. This rigid social hierarchy is symbolized by the ziggurats, the giant stepped temples-towers that “reached the sky” where the workers remained locked at the bottom and the exalted aristocrats set at the apex (like Nimrod.)

“Gilgamesh also commissioned an army to invade other cities for the loot. He died in such a raid. His religion supported the oppressive hierarchy (in which “minor gods” worked the fields for the benefits of the “superior gods”.) Gilgamesh’ model of society was based on INTERNAL THEFT as well as EXTERNAL one.

THEFT by War
“Gilgamesh’s wall is a good evidence of WARS between CITY-STATES for ORGANIZED THEFT. From him onwards in history, raiding other cities became the “only noble way to acquire scares resources. War became a noble occupation of the aristocrats, justified by morality and religion. The quickest way to accumulate wealth was to invade other cities or nations, grab their territories and abduct their peoples for manual hard work.’ Forced Slavery was instituted.”

Having started in Mesopotamia, this new life style spread all over the inhabitant land. In 1900 BCE, when Abraham was born, large Empires were consolidated for performing ORGANIZED THEFT in a large, efficient way. This became Abraham’s main struggle, as we’ll see.

Karen Amstrong writes:
“The Aryans discovered that the easiest way to replace lost animals was to steal the cattle of a nearby village…
“Aryans saw warfare superior to the tedious life in the cities…
“The Aryan religion gave supreme sanction to what was essentially ORGENIZED VIOLENCE and THEFT. Their mythology said that all cattle, the measure of wealth in those days, belonged to the Aryans and that others have no right to those resources…
“Like Gilgamesh, the Aryans would always seek honor, glory, prestige and fame in battle…
“The Aryan rituals and mythology glorified ORGANIZED THEFT and VIOLENCE…”

King Nimrod’s end
After the fall of his Tower, King Nimrod lived many more years alone, perhaps among the animals. Legend says that he was assassinated by Esau, who robbed him of his miraculous Dress.
But while Nimrod had used the Dress to understand the animal’s needs, Esau used it for hunting and killing.

Nimrod rebelled: against whom?
The name “Nimrod”, as we have said, means “let us rebel.” Against whom? There are several answers, all true:
1. He rebelled against his own ego, talking to it.
2. He rebelled against hunters, protecting the animals
3. His hosts whispered in his ears “let us rebel against your father…”
4. The Tower workers told each other ‘Let’s rebel against nature’
5. His heartless organization rebelled against YHVH
6. His inflated “ego rebelled against YHVH” by his arrogance

The implications of the story to our time

The crux of the story is that even a dream society, the envy of the UN, can pervert into a heartless organization/corporation that CAN be successful, yet seen EVIL in YHVH EYES.
Hence we should never look at the bottom economic line at all costs.
We should not enrage YHVH by our heartless activities.
The challenge is coming home as we introduce more and more new technologies. Corporations may arise that see not the human cost but the economical success. Let us not bring King Nimrod and his Tower back to our world!