What a Nimrod!!
Well, it could be an insult or epithet!
In the Torah, Nimrod is a grandson of Ham. He is a "mighty hunter before the Lrd.
His name has become associated with hunters, warriors and tyrants.
The Midrash says that he is responsible for the building of the Tower of Bavel.
Whoa! There's more than enough there to make a case for using "Nimrod" as an insult. I can just hear Bugs Bunny saying it in the same way he says "What a maroon!" Close you eyes and hear Bugs saying it:
"What a Nimrod!"
Works, doesn't it?
Lots of hooks to hang this on. Hunting is not exactly in great favor these days. Nor mighty warriors, or tyrants. Calling someone a "Nimrod" might be like calling them a "troglodyte." Only a "Neanderthal" might like hunting, or be a mighty warrior or tyrant. We don't exactly associate great intelligence with any of those (except, perhaps, tyranny. Sadly, many tyrants have been people of great intelligence. But, as the rabbis and others tell us, what good is intelligence without wisdom?)
If Nimrod is indeed the instigator of the Tower of Babel, then he makes an even better scapegoat and his name a great epithet - against someone haughty or prideful, someone who gets us in big trouble, someone whose strives to reach too far beyond his limitations, someone who strives to make themselves equal to Gd. Someone lacking in a particular ingredient that balances their great intellect or power.
Although it's likely that whatever ruler might have built whatever tower was the model for the tower in this story, with enforced or conscripted labor, the Torah makes it appear as though the Tower of Babel was a community effort.
"Come, let US build a city, and a tower with its head in the sky." (Gen. 11:4)
If so, then all who worked on it were arrogant and prideful-they were all Nimrods!
And what of us? Are we all Nimrods too? We erect great edifices (physical, social and psychological) that challenge Gd and seek to usurp Gd's place. And now we are building an electronic Tower of Babel. Through the internet and web, we are breaking down the language barriers that the Torah tells us Gd put between us to confound us, so we could not again raise a Tower to challenge the heavens. We must be cautious as we erect this electronic edifice that we do not build a migdal gadol that takes the place of Gd.
The nice thing about the net and the web is that it can sometimes have the opposite effect. Rather than making us prideful, it can humble us when we confront its vast store of information and realize how little we each know. It becomes our "Ozymandias" whose works we are to look on and despair. Yet, like Ozymandias, it will someday be but a shadow of its former greatness, to be replaced by who knows what.
Building, building, building. All the time. In my community, three of the four synagogues, plus the JCC are undergoing major renovation projects simultaneously. When they are done, we will have this beautiful edifices. But without people of wisdom to work in them, teach in them, worship in them they are but empty, meaningless shells.
This, I believe, is why Gd prevented the completion of the great Tower at Bavel. Not because Gd feared the challenge of Gd's creations, but because Gd feared an organized intellect without wisdom. The people of Bavel betray their lack of wisdom when they plan to build this great city so they should not be scattered all over the earth (thus invoking their own "reward" or punishment from Gd.) Gd had given them this entire earth, and they all wanted to stay in one place? Doesn't sound very wise to me. Yet, like them, we all migrate to the big cities, while our outlands are neglected and fall into ruin. (Our cities, too, fall into ruin, but we just keep building new ones-sometimes in the same place, as the many tels in the Middle East demonstrate.)
We build great social edifices. In this country, with the best of intentions, we created a mammoth system of social welfare. But it became so big it faltered under its own weight and began to work against its own purpose. We build a mighty nation on principles of freedom, equality, disestablishment of religion and justice. Yet each of these great edifices is slowly being chipped away, or crumbling under its own weight or the strain being placed upon it.
We also build huge psychological edifices. How many of us carry around a false front of personality as big as the tower of Bavel? For us, they become hindrances at true communication. We must tear down our towers (or at least stop building them) in order that we might understand each other. (Perhaps if the people at Bavel had stopped building their tower, Gd would have not made it even more difficult for them to understand each other?)
Have we learned nothing from Bavel? Are we doomed, all of us to be Nimrods?
I, for one, don't plan to sit around waiting for Divine Intervention to stop our work on our great migdalim. I don't want to be a nimrod.
This Shabbat, I challenge all of us to consider what we can do to prevent the recurrence of biblical history. OK, all you nimrods, get to work!
© 1999 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
A Nimrod! (Revised)
Noakh 5765-A Pshat In The Dark
Noach 5764-Finding My Rainbow
Noach 5763-Striving to be Human
Noach 5762-To Make a Name for Ourselves
Noach 5761-Getting Noticed
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