My son came home from school today and proudly announced that he had learned in school that Nevuchadnezzar, King of Babylon and the entire known world, was in fact very short. "Did I know how short?" he asked. "No", said I, fearing the worst.
"Nevuchadnezzar was exactly 1 tefach tall!" came the answer.
Well of course he was. 1 tefach is about 2 inches (5 cms) in modern terminology. Of course people are that big. Perhaps he was the original inspiration for Tom Thumb (or tinkerbell for that matter).
Apparently (again, according to my son), the Chazon Ish, or perhaps it was the Chatam Sofer, or maybe the Chofetz Chaim, once comforted a short person by telling them to imagine how powerful and evil Nevuchadnezzar was, yet he was only 1 tefach. This person was taller than that so imagine how much good they could do! Inspiring stuff.
I know Napoleon was short, as were many world leaders (particularly evil dictators for some reason - just ask Austin Powers. hmmm) but would I be accused of heresy were I to question the literalness of this particular story?
I found that in Tanna d'Bei Eliyahu, chapter 31, it says that Nevuchadnezzar was full of pride, but short of stature. When he would tour his countries, from city to city, all the townspeople would gather together and go out to meet him. They would make jokes with each other, and say to each other, "Is this the one who rules from one end of the world to the other?"
Pretty cruel huh!
I was discussing this tonight with someone, who suggested (wisely) that perhaps the midrash is coming to contrast his ego with his height, and since his ego was so enormous, they had to describe him as miniscule by comparison.
This makes a lot of sense. Especially as Nevuchadnezzar was criticised by G-d in the Gemara Chagiga (13a I think) for being so proud. He wanted to ascend to Heaven to wage war on G-d. G-d taunts him that from earth to the first heaven is 500 miles, and the heaven is 500 miles thick, and between each heaven there is 500 miles, and there are seven heavens all together. It would take several lifetimes and a person could still never get close to G-d (in that sense).
So perhaps the equation is: + ego = - physical size.
And we learn it all from Nevuchadnezzar, perhaps the only person in history to have a name bigger than he is!