“Nimrod and the Financial Meltdown”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In Genesis 10, the Torah features a long list of descendants of Shem, Cham and Yafet. It is a litany of begets and begats of Noah’s grandchildren, all of whom were born after the Flood. Our sages teach that each of these children founded one of the seventy nations that populated the world in ancient times.

Almost all the 70 progeny are listed in a similar manner, without elaboration or additional details. There is, however, one exception. In Genesis 10:6-7, we learn that Cham had four sons, one of whom is named Kush, and that Kush himself had five sons and two grandsons. However, in verse 8, we learn that Kush had an additional son named Nimrod. The Radak indicates that Nimrod is listed in a separate verse in order to underscore his kingdom and his might. Others suggest that, because Nimrod proclaimed himself a god, scripture purposely lists him separately in order to emphasize that he was but a mortal man, born of a mortal woman.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch suggests that all of Cham’s progeny listed until Nimrod are founders of nations that bear their names. Nimrod, however, did not found a nation that is called by his name. Instead, Nimrod introduced an entirely new factor that was to change prevailing culture–Nimrod employed his abundant might to dominate the other nations.

In Genesis 10:8-9, the Torah describes Nimrod as follows (Genesis 10:8-9): “Hoo hay’chayl leeh’yoht gee’bor bah’ah’retz,” He was the first to be a mighty man on earth. It further states that he was a mighty hunter before G-d. In fact, Nimrod was so exceptional that a song of praise, “Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the L-rd,” was often sung in his honor.

The rabbis of the Midrash identify Nimrod with Amrafel, the king of Shinar (Genesis 14:1), who reputedly threw Abram into the fiery furnace (based on the Hebrew “amar pol,” he commanded him to jump or fall). The Talmud in Eruvin 53a explains that he is known as Nimrod, because he stirred up the whole world to rebel (lim’rod) against G-d’s sovereignty. A similar interpretation is followed by Rashi who maintains that Nimrod is referred to by scripture (Genesis 10:9) as a “gee’bohr tza’yeed,” a mighty hunter, because he ensnared (tzad) men with his words and incited them to rebel against the Omnipresent.

The great Nehama Leibowitz, in her Studies in Bereishith (Genesis), notes that, like Adam and Noah, the generation of Nimrod betrayed its mission by replacing equality of all people with oppression and brotherhood with tyranny. Extensively citing The Abarbanel, Leibowitz links the story of Nimrod with the builders of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11).

The Abarbanel writes:

The Torah wished to stress that, hitherto, all mankind had been equal until Nimrod became mighty and lorded over his contemporaries. “He began to be a mighty man in the land,” in other words, he became a tyrant. Indeed, it is stated further that: “He was a mighty hunter before the L-rd.” You already know how our sages interpret this phrase–that he trapped people with his wiles; but I think that he was literally a great hunter of animals. The text implies that he resorted to two subterfuges to gain ascendancy over his people.

First he made himself a mighty hunter, hunting the wild beasts and conquering them. When people saw how he vanquished the bears and lions despite their strength, they stood in awe of him and were vanquished. To this the text, “He was a mighty hunter before the L-rd” refers. Under all heaven, there was no hunter mightier than he, until he became a byword by the time of the writing of the Torah: “Wherefore it is said: Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the L-rd.”…

Second, he built towers and highly fortified cities from which to rule over the whole country. Ensconced in a forbidding tower, fear and dread [of Nimrod] overwhelmed all the inhabitants of the plain. This is implied in the text: “And the beginning of his kingdom, Babel, and Erech, Accad and Calneh.” For he made them there, in the powerful countries where he built the seat of his kingdom.

Nimrod was clearly a powerful leader. His attempts to unify all nations under his rule could even be regarded as noble and heroic, but his intentions notwithstanding, his methods were dishonest, exploitative and abusive.

It is relatively easy to see the similarity between Nimrod the “Ensnarer,” and the great economic tragedy that has “ensnared” the United States, and indeed the entire world, in recent days.

Nimrod was the classic con artist. He did not have a nation of his own, but through his slick tongue, his wily talents and his dominant persona, he was able to lure people and nations into trusting him. After all, he seemed able to vanquish fearsome bears and lions with barely any effort.

It seems likely that Nimrod shared the spoils of his hunt with those who would declare their loyalty to him, plying his sycophants with venison, steaks and perhaps even filet mignon. Before they knew it, his followers had lost their own freedom, finding themselves dominated by a tyrant who would brook no disobedience. Caught in his snare, they could not extricate themselves.

When the Federal Reserve Bank lowered interest rates to historic low levels, the mortgage lenders saw an opportunity to share the rare “venison,” even with those who had no teeth and whose digestive system was too undeveloped to accommodate the rich flesh. Like the ancient population of Babel, the poor people of the country, were promised “towers” with their tops in heaven (Genesis 11:4), but they learned very quickly that the brokers and the bankers were speaking an entirely different language. Before long they were dispersed over all the face of the earth when the banks foreclosed on them, and took away their precious possessions.

There are undoubtedly many guilty parties who contributed to the great financial debacle, including bankers, brokers, the Federal Reserve, the government who failed to properly monitor the lenders, Congress who voted against requiring oversight on these perilous loans, the credit rating agencies and probably even the poor victims themselves. The Talmud in Tractate Makkot 10b, asserts: “B’deh’rech sheh’ah’dahm ro’tzeh lay’lech, bah mo’lee’cheen oh’toh,” On the path that a person wishes to follow, that is where he is led. The motive of providing home ownership for the poor and spreading the wealth seems worthy and generous, but it was wrong to “entice” the poor into a get-rich scheme that was irresistible, yet unworkable.

Unquestionably, there was abundant greed, avarice, and much willingness to be deceived, and now everyone is paying the price.

We see clearly that although Nimrod is a historical figure who lived thousands of years ago, this same mighty wily “hunter before G-d” seems to reappear in every generation, capturing ever more innocent victims.

Let us pray that civilization will soon come to its senses and recognize the cynical leaders for what they are and replace them with people of value and vision. Let us hope that new leaders, who are not out to dominate others through power and wealth, but who genuinely wish to help and support others out of a sense of caring and concern, will take their place.

May you be blessed.