Rav Kook Torah

Psalm 135: Deliverance from Powerful Enemies

It was never easy to be a Jew. Even now, with our own state and army, Israel’s ambassador to the UN recently exclaimed, “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 managed to survive throughout the centuries, despite numerous powerful and brutal enemies. Psalms 135 and 136 celebrate the nation’s Divine protection and deliverance (in the words of Mark Twain, ‘the secret of the Jew’s immortality'), starting with our escape from Egyptian subjugation and our triumph over the Canaanite nations.

“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 Canaanite kings, they ‘merited’ to be explicitly mentioned?

Three Types of Power

We can classify the various forms of human prowess and strength into three basic categories. The people of Israel needed God’s assistance in overcoming all three, as they fought for their inheritance in the Land of Israel.

The first form of strength is the formidable spirit found in a cruel and ruthless leader. A fierce king is difficult to overcome. The Midrash says that King Sichon was like a sayach, a young, wild mule in the wilderness (Rosh Hashanah 3a). This refers to his brutally vicious nature, unlimited in its violent outbursts. The ancient despots of the world valued the power to rule by instilling fear and terror. Tyrants like Nebuchadnezzar, who would eat live rabbits, intentionally developed traits of violent cruelty and savagery, aware that these characteristics fortified their reign of terror.

The second form of strength is that of immense physical power. Og, king of Bashan, was a tremendous giant; he epitomized this form of power. The Torah states (Deut. 3:11) that Og was so tall, his bed needed to be nine cubits (13.5 feet) long.

And the third category of strength is the collective power that comes from many nations working together for a common cause. This was the military advantage of the Canaanite kings, who formed an alliance in order to fight against the Jewish people.

As the Israelites strove to inherit the Land of Israel, God subdued all of these forms of power before them. Neither the ruthless brutality of Sichon, nor the terrible physical strength of the giant Og, nor the collective power of all the Canaanite armies together, succeeded in thwarting the Divine plan of settling the people of Israel in their land.

This is a lesson for all generations. We need not fear our enemies’ cruelty, brute physical strength, or numerical superiority. Just as the Sichons, Ogs and other tyrants throughout history could not foil God’s plan, so too our current foes will fail to obstruct God’s promise to the Jewish people.

“There are many thoughts in a man’s heart; but the counsel of God will always stand.” (Proverbs 19:21)

(adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. II, p. 83)

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