Rav Kook Torah

Devarim: Right versus Might


“We turned and went up towards Bashan, and Og, king of Bashan, and his people came out to fight against us at Edrei. God told me: ‘Do not fear him. I will place him and all his people and his land in your hands.'” (Deut. 3:1-3)

The Battle Against Og

Moses gave a terse account of the battle against the fearful giant, King Og, and his people. The Midrash (Berachot 54b), however, elaborated greatly upon this amazing event:

“Og said to himself, ‘How large is the encampment of Israel? Three Persian miles? I will grab a mountain three miles wide, throw it on them and kill them!’ So Og took a mountain three miles wide, and lifted it over his head in order to throw it.

But God brought ants. They ate a hole in the mountain, and the rock crashed down on Og’s neck. Og tried to lift it up, but his teeth stuck out in both directions and prevented the rock from lifting over his head.

Now, Moses was ten cubits [15 feet] tall. He took a hammer ten cubits long, jumped up ten cubits and swung the hammer at Og’s ankles, killing him.”

Nice story. But what does it mean? What message were the Sages trying to tell us?

Brute Force versus Spiritual Greatness

The battle between Og and Moses is a metaphor for the struggle between the physical and spiritual realms. Og the giant viewed everything in terms of brute force and power. He was enraged seeing a small, weak people — the Israelites — take on and defeat the Midianites and the Amorites. Og decided he would demonstrate that spiritual power cannot compete against physical strength. He would use the ultimate symbol of brute force — a massive, inanimate mountain — to bury the Jews and all of their pretensions!

The giant lifted the mountain up, over his head. This indicated that the huge rock, as a symbol of brute power, was his crown, his glory, his ultimate value.

“But God brought ants that ate a hole in the mountain.” Significantly, Og’s downfall was not by means of an even greater physical force. Og’s faith in power and might was conclusively shattered by his defeat at the hands of the smallest and most fragile of creatures, the lowly ant.

Overgrown Teeth

At this point, the heavy rock weighed down heavily on Og’s shoulders. He began to realize that his trust in physical force was misplaced. His crown had become an oppressive burden. However, it was too late to escape. His teeth, symbolizing his aggressiveness and lust, had grown outwards. His traits of violence and rapacity, like his reliance on brute force, had become an integral part of his life and personality, at the expense of spiritual inclinations.

Such is the fate of an individual — or a people — addicted to the drug of physical force, living by the power of the fist. In hindsight, such a life of aggression will be a burden and a source of bitter discontent. Old and weak, even if he should now desire to change his ways to a more peaceful existence, he will not succeed. His teeth overgrown, his basic nature has been usurped by the lifelong habits of aggression and savage greed.

(Gold from the Land of Israel, pp. 294-296. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, pp. 248-249)

Illustration image: ‘The Colossus’ (Francisco de Goya, 1808-1828)