Towards the end of this week’s Parashah we learn of Nimrod. As the son of Cush, the world’s first conqueror, and ruler of the 1st empire, he is described as “Gibor Tzayid Lifnei Hashem,” “A mighty hunter before Hashem.” (BeReishit 10:9) At first glance it would seem that the Torah is praising Nimrod, but was it not Nimrod who, according to the Midrash, threw Avraham and his brother, Haran, in the Kivshan haEish, the fiery furnace? Nimrod is someone evil, not someone who is “Lifnei Hashem!”
Rashi (s.v. Lifnei Hashem) answers this question by saying that when the Torah says “Lifnei Hashem,” “Before Hashem,” it means that Nimrod would “Mitkavein LeHaknito Al Panav,” “Act deliberately to antagonize Hashem to is face.” Nimrod was someone who recognized his Master but still set out to rebel against Him.
Rav Hirsch disagrees with Rashi, based on the assumption that the words “Lifnei Hashem” must mean something positive, not something negative as Rashi explained. Therefore, there must be alternate explanations how a Rasha like Nimrod could be described as “Lifnei Hashem.” The Malbim suggests that though Nimrod was someone who would trick people into thinking of him as a religious leader and a spiritual person, this trickery would lead to people believing in Hashem. He would even sacrifice Korbanot “Lifnei Hashem” to convince the people of his own religious importance. Therefore, though it was not Nimrod’s original intent, when people saw how strong Nimrod was they would attribute his strength to a supernatural power, Hashem.
The Netziv offers a different interpretation. He compares Nimrod to someone like Nevuchadnetzar – a Rasha that was chosen to fulfill Ratzon Hashem, Hashem’s will. Nevuchadnetzar had the task of destroying the Beit HaMikdash; Nimrod had a similar role. Hashem needed to make sure that the world would not collapse due to anarchy, so he commissioned Nimrod to take control of the people, using violence if necessary, and to rule them. This way the world would be stable, and the same way that Hashem called the evil Nevuchadnetzar “Avdi,” “My servant” (Yirmiyahu 27:6) for destroying the Beit HaMikdash, Nimrod, a Rasha, could be described as “Lifnei Hashem” for establishing his kingdom and ensuring world stability.
Rav Tuvia Grossman points out that according to Rashi Nimrod was not any of this: he was no trickster, he was no inspirer of religion, and he was no puppet of Hashem. He was just a wicked ruler who encouraged people to rebel against God. As for Rav Hirsch’s point, we may question his assertion that “Lifnei Hashem” must mean something positive. The Ketav VeHaKabalah notes that there are many instances in Tanach where “Lifnei” means “in opposition” or “against.” According to Rashi, that is what Nimrod was – someone who was against Hashem. Of course, someone who is against Hashem is determined to crush anyone who clings to Hashem. That is why Nimrod tried to kill Avraham in the Kivshan HaEish, the fiery furnace. However, Nimrod’s attempts to rebel against Hashem, to defame Him, and to defeat His followers failed, and now he and his kingdom are gone while Hashem and the Jewish people are still standing. As we know from Tehillim (20:9), “Heima Kare’u VeNafalu VaAnachnu Kamnu VaNitodad,” “They (our enemies) slumped and fell, but we arose and were invigorated.”