It was never easy to be a Jew. Even nowadays, with a Jewish state and army, Israeli ambassador Dan Gillerman exclaimed in a speech to the UN General Assembly, “Thank God that the fate of Israel and of the Jewish people is not decided in this hall!”
With God’s help, the Jewish people have survived wars and persecution throughout the centuries, despite numerous powerful and cruel enemies. The lyrical chapters of Psalms 135 and 136 celebrate God’s protection of the Jewish people, starting with our rescue from Egyptian subjugation and our triumph over the Canaanite armies.
שֶׁהִכָּה גּוֹיִם רַבִּים וְהָרַג מְלָכִים עֲצוּמִים.
לְסִיחוֹן מֶלֶךְ הָאֱמֹרִי, וּלְעוֹג מֶלֶךְ הַבָּשָׁן, וּלְכֹל מַמְלְכוֹת כְּנָעַן.
“He smote many nations and slew mighty kings: Sichon, king of the Emorites, Og, king of Bashan, and all the kingdoms of Canaan.” (Psalm 135:10-11)
What was special about Sichon and Og that, out of all the kings of Canaan, they ‘merited’ to be mentioned explicitly?
We may identify three factors in a nation’s military strength and ferocity. The people of Israel needed God’s assistance in overcoming all three aspects, as they struggled to secure their inheritance in the Land of Israel.
The first factor is the formidable spirit found in a cruel and ruthless leader. It is particularly challenging to defeat a fierce warrior-king. The Talmud in Rosh Hashanah 3a explains that the name “Sichon” means “wild donkey”, young and dangerous. The warlord had a brutal and vicious nature, unlimited in its violent outbursts. The ancient despots of the world valued the power to rule by instilling fear and terror. Tyrants such as Nebuchadnezzar, who would eat live rabbits, intentionally developed traits of violent cruelty and savagery, aware that these characteristics reinforced their reign of terror.
The second factor is that of immense physical power. Og, king of Bashan, was a tremendous giant, and he epitomized this form of power. The Torah notes that his huge bed was nine cubits (13.5 feet) long (Deut. 3:11), an indication of his enormous size.
And the third factor is the collective power that comes from the armies of several nations working together for a common cause. This was the military advantage of the Canaanite kings, who formed an alliance to battle the Jewish people.
As the Israelites strove to possess the Land of Israel, God subdued every type of military might before them. Neither the ruthless brutality of Sichon, nor the terrible physical strength of the giant Og, nor the collective power of the allied Canaanite armies, could thwart God’s plan to bring His people to their land.
This is a lesson for all generations. We need not fear our enemies’ cruelty, their physical strength, nor their numerical superiority. Just as the Sichons, Ogs, and other tyrants throughout history could not foil God’s plan, neither will our current foes succeed in obstructing God’s promise to the Jewish people.
(Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. II, p. 83)
Illustration image: Ambiorix ambushing the 14th Roman legion. (Karel de Kesel, 1865)