A Break in the List
Bereshit 10 lists the descendants of Noach's three sons and the regions which each family inhabited. Most of the people are simply listed by name with no accompanying details or description. However, the text deviates from this pattern upon reaching Nimrod, a descendant of Cham, and it devotes an entire five verses to him:
(ח) וְכוּשׁ יָלַד אֶת נִמְרֹד הוּא הֵחֵל לִהְיוֹת גִּבֹּר בָּאָרֶץ. (ט) הוּא הָיָה גִבֹּר צַיִד לִפְנֵי ה' עַל כֵּן יֵאָמַר כְּנִמְרֹד גִּבּוֹר צַיִד לִפְנֵי ה'. (י) וַתְּהִי רֵאשִׁית מַמְלַכְתּוֹ בָּבֶל וְאֶרֶךְ וְאַכַּד וְכַלְנֵה בְּאֶרֶץ שִׁנְעָר. (יא) מִן הָאָרֶץ הַהִוא יָצָא אַשּׁוּר וַיִּבֶן אֶת נִינְוֵה וְאֶת רְחֹבֹת עִיר וְאֶת כָּלַח. (יב) וְאֶת רֶסֶן בֵּין נִינְוֵה וּבֵין כָּלַח הִוא הָעִיר הַגְּדֹלָה.
(8) And Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one in the earth. (9) He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; wherefore it is said: 'Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.' (10) And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. (11) Out of that land went forth Asshur, and builded Nineveh, and Rehoboth-ir, and Calah, (12) and Resen between Nineveh and Calah — the same is the great city.
What about Nimrod is so exceptional that the Torah pauses to expound about him?
A Mighty Hunter before Hashem
The verses speaking about Nimrod contain several cryptic phrases:
- "הוּא הֵחֵל לִהְיוֹת גִּבֹּר בָּאָרֶץ" – The word "הֵחֵל" ("began") is perplexing; how did Nimrod "begin" to be a hero in the land? What type of "גִּבֹּר" was he? Does the word "גִּבֹּר" connote physical or spiritual strength?
- "גִבֹּר צַיִד לִפְנֵי ה'" – What does it mean to be a "hunter before Hashem"? Does the term "לִפְנֵי ה'" have a religious overtone? Is this a positive or negative description; was Nimrod for or against Hashem?
- "מִן הָאָרֶץ הַהִוא יָצָא אַשּׁוּר" – This verse is syntactically ambiguous. Did Ashur leave the land of Shinar or did someone else depart for the land of Ashur? Either way, why is this detail shared? Does it reveal anything further about the character of Nimrod?