Devarim - A Clash of Titans
By Rabbi Aron Tendler
It was the first day of Shevat, 2488. Moshe was almost 120 years old, and
the forty years in the desert were almost over. The opening verses of
Sefer Divarim describe the exact geographical location of what ws to be
Moshe's final discourse and instructions to the Bnai Yisroel. As Rav S.R.
"With Moshe's death, all of his physical personality will depart. Only a
description, recorded in the most precise terms possible, of the place
where the people had heard the last of his faithful words, will be handed
down to posterity so that, if some day a late descendent of the Children of
Israel will come to this place, it may perhaps echo for him these words and
inspire him to follow them faithfully in the midst, and for the good, of
Moshe's final words were to prepare the Jews for their transition from
their miraculous existence in the desert to a more traditional existence in
the Eretz Yisroel. While in the desert their existence was maintained by
the revealed hand of G-d supplying food from heaven, water from rocks, and
the continuous protection and security of His cloud cover. Once they
crossed over the Yarden, the nation would begin to interface with the land
and have to support themselves through the hidden hand of G-d. Aqueducts
would have to be built, cisterns would have to be dug, fields would have to
be planted, and permanent homes would be needed to provide them with
protection and security from the natural elements.
In Sefer Divarim, Moshe will forewarn the Jews of the dangers of
assimilation, intermarriage, and idol worship. He will direct them to be
vigilant in attending to the education and development of their
children. He will review with them those laws that were unique to the land
itself, (e.g. cities of refuge) those laws that were essential for the
development of a Torah society and government, (e.g. Tzedaka (charity) and
appointing a king) and those laws that could not have been fulfilled in
their entirety while living in the desert, but required the land itself for
their full observance. (e.g. Pesach, Succoth, and Shevuot.)
The opening discourse is a historical review of the major events that had
transpired since the giving of the Torah: The development of a judicial
system; the incident with the Spies and the 40 year decree; their encounter
with the descendents of Eisav, Moav, and Amon.
Starting with before Shishi, (2:26) Moshe spent a considerable amount of
time describing their victory over Sichon the king of Emori and Og the king
of Bashan. Moshe went so far as to describe the exact size of Og's
bed. "…his bed was made of iron. It is in the Ammorite city off Rabbah,
nine standard cubits long and four cubits high".
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan quotes from the Rambaam in Moreh Nevuchim 2:47 that,
"The bed was thus 13.5' x 6'. Since a bed is usually one third longer than
the person, this would indicate that Og was some six cubits or nine feet
high." Granted, Og was a giant of a fellow and would have been a first
draft pick in the NBA, however, we must wonder at the seeming fascination
that Moshe and the Torah exhibited in Og the king of Bashan. Why are these
trivial facts of any consequence or concern?
Og was the quintessential survivor. According to the Medresh, he had
survived the Mabul (Great Flood) (making him at least 830 years old),
survived the war of the four kings against the five, survived another 400
years of history, and eventually became the king over the land of Bashan.
What would be the psycho theological profile of an individual whose life
seemed to defy mortality? On the one hand we might expect such a person to
develop a deep passion to understand the meaning of existence, justice, and
truth, and to conclude that there is a Creator (like Yisro). On the other
hand, the same experience of survival and immortality could confirm the
very absence of a G-d who directs His universe on the basis of truth and
justice. Such a person could conclude with a belief in personal divinity,
practicing and demanding self-worship.
The pre-diluvian generation believed in their own immortality, and opposed
the manifest dominion of G-d in nature and in society. Therefore, might
made right, and the strongest survived as gods. They were the antithesis
of the generation of the desert who had witnessed G-d's total dominion over
all forces in the universe. In the generation and post-generation of the
Exodus, acceptance of G-d and the teaching of total subjugation to His will
were to be the new world order. The individual and society were only as
strong and enduring as the closeness of their relationship with G-d. Human
might was less than relevant, and all strength and success were to be
attributed to G-d.
Og was the last remnant of the Mabul generation, and was determined to
counter the message and influences of the Jews. He could have chosen to
join the Chosen People as an ally and partner. As a first-hand witness to
the history of the world he could have been numbered among humanities great
teachers. (Such as Shem and Ever) Instead, he opposed the Jews, and had to
be destroyed. It made perfect sense that Moshe Rabbeinu, "the most humble
of all men," would personally eliminated the arrogance and defiance of the
likes of Og. It was a clash of titans doing battle for the soul of
humanity. That is why the Torah describes in such detail the physicality
of Og and his destruction. Moshe's work wasn't complete until he had
washed away the remaining influences of the pre-diluvian world.
Copyright © 2003 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.