It happened in the days of Amrafel King of Shinar, Aryoch King of Elasar, Kedarla'omer King of Ailam, and Tidal King of Goyim…

-- Breshis 14:1

Classic Questions

Who was Amrafel (אמרפל)? (v. 1)

Rashi: Amrafel was actually Nimrod, who said (אמר) to Avram: Fall (פול) into the fiery furnace [אמר and אמרפל = פול].

Talmud: This was a dispute between Rav and Shmuel. Rav said that his real name was Nimrod, but he was also called Amrafel because he said (אמר ) [the command that caused] Avram to fall (פול) into the fiery furnace. Shmuel said his real name was Amrafel, but he was also called Nimrod (נמרוד) because he caused the whole world to rebel (שהמריד) against G‑d.1

Maharsha: In Parshas Noach, the Torah states, "Cush fathered Nimrod. He started to be a rebel in the land" (10:8). I.e., he was the first person to fight wars.

Since the war between the four kings and the five kings is the first war that is recorded in the Torah (and the first which occurred in the world), it is logical to assume that the Torah is now filling in more information about what was stated earlier. Therefore, the two names Nimrod and Amrafel must be referring to the same person, one being his real name and one an acquired name (ibid.).

The Rebbe's Teachings

The Dispute of Rav and Shmuel (v. 1)

The dispute of Rav and Shmuel is a reflection of their different approaches to Torah study. Rav preferred the straightforward study of Mishnah, where ideas are self-explanatory and can be taken at face-value.2 Shmuel, on the other hand, favored the complex analytical approach of pilpul, where arguments are refuted, honed, and fine-tuned through focused application of the mind.3

Similarly, Rav tended to interpret a verse at face value, translating the words of scripture literally; whereas Shmuel would analyze each statement of the Torah more logically, adapting the interpretation to ensure contextual consistency.

With this in mind, we can explain their differing opinions on our verse:

When Rav read the verse in Parshas Noach, "Kush fathered Nimrod. He started to be a rebel in the land" (10:8), he took the Torah's words at face value, i.e., that Nimrod was the actual name of Kush's son. On reading our verse, Rav discovered that Nimrod could also be referred to as Amrafel, so he explained how the name Amrafel was the Torah's alternative-descriptive name: "He was also called Amrafel because he said to Avraham: Fall into the fiery furnace."

Shmuel, however, rejected this "face value" approach and analyzed the verses according to their context. Thus, when the Torah stated in Parshas Noach, "Kush fathered Nimrod. He started to be a rebel in the land," Shmuel was struck by the following problem:

The preceding section of Parshas Noach lists, at length, the descendants of Noach. When listing all the other names, the Torah tells us nothing about the personalities involved. Only when we read about Nimrod does the Torah interject and say, "He started to be a rebel [against G‑d] in the land. He was a powerful trapper [of people's minds, turning them] against G‑d. Therefore, it is said [about rebellious people that they are] 'Like Nimrod, a powerful trapper against G‑d'" (ibid. 9-10). This sudden change of pattern troubled Shmuel. Why did the Torah only tell us about Nimrod's personality?

Shmuel came to a logical solution to this problem: In contrast to all the names that preceded his, Nimrod was not in fact this person's actual name, but rather, a name which the Torah used to describe his personality. This explains why, after telling us that his "name" was Nimrod, the Torah digressed to tell us why he acquired this name: "because he caused the whole world to rebel (שהמריד) against G‑d."

Therefore, on reading our verse in Parshas Lech Lecha, Shmuel understood that Amrafel must have been Nimrod's real name, since we had been told only his acquired name in Parshas Noach.

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 16, pp. 4-5)