Building upon the Ruins of Sichon and Og

BY RABBI ELIEZER KASHTIEL

The conquest of the Land of Israel begins with the acquisition of the lands of Sichon and Og. This territory, located across the Jordan River, would ultimately be settled by the tribes of Gad and Reuven. Interestingly, it was the conquest of the lands of Sichon and Og that enabled Moshe to deliver his final address to the nation. 

“It was in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first of the month that Moshe addressed Bnei Yisrael in accordance with everything that Hashem had commanded him to [tell] them, after he defeated Sichon the king of the Emori who lived in Cheshbon, and Og the king of the Bashan” (Devarim 1:3–4).

In order to understand the relationship between the defeat of Sichon and Og and Moshe’s address in Sefer Devarim, it is crucial to understand what these two kings, and their downfall at the hands of Bnei Yisrael, represent.

The conflict between Moshe and these kings calls attention to the sharp contrast between the Jewish concept of monarchy and that of other notions of government. The Jewish approach is rooted in the Torah’s perspective that the word of Hashem must direct the nation and its leadership, just as it guides the individual.

Sichon and Og represent two different forms of government. Rav Kook describes Sichon as a “fierce and ruthless king” who was characterized by “savage inner strength that would erupt without constraint” (Olat Re’iyah 2, 83). His form of government is predicated on the ruler’s power and tyrannical control of his nation. Throughout history, there have been countless despots whose subjects were intimidated by their rulers’ complete lack of restraint and were terrified of disobeying their orders. Sichon’s character is illustrated by his reaction to Bnei Yisrael’s simple request to pass through his territory. Being a fearsome and intolerant tyrant, Sichon refused to comply. 

In contrast, the leader of the Jewish camp – Moshe – was perfectly refined and humble. His nation did not fear him; rather, they submitted to his authority because they viewed him as a faithful emissary of Hashem. Far from being a cruel tyrant, he was a paragon of self-restraint. Moshe’s example served as a powerful statement to the world: that it is possible to govern with kindness and compassion, rather than resorting to tyranny and intimidation. 

Og employed a different style of governance, one that is more commonly encountered in modern times. Og ruled over a rich and fertile land. Og himself was an imposing giant of a man, the embodiment of physicality. His subjects did not submit to his authority out of fear; rather, they were motivated by the promise of material gain.

The king of the Bashan was among the “remnant of the [giant] Refaim” (Devarim 3:11). As a king who ruled over his nation in line with his personal mindset, he defined success and fulfillment exclusively in terms of material dominance (Rav Kook, Ein Ayah, Berachot 2:9:8). Og’s style of leadership exists in many contemporary societies where political leaders often gain power by promising financial benefit. 

The Talmud relates that Abba Shaul once chased a deer through a huge thigh bone, which turned out to belong to Og (Niddah 24b). Aggadic stories such as these are generally interpreted by commentaries as dreams, visions or metaphors, and there is certainly a metaphoric lesson here: A person should pursue purity, symbolized by the deer, not coarse materialism, represented by Og’s thigh bone.

The collapse of the kingdoms of Sichon and Og represented the failures of their respective worldviews – the beliefs that a kingdom could be built on strength and intimidation or on the promise of material bounty alone. It was only after Moshe defeated Sichon and Og, thereby negating their approaches, that he could teach the people how they were to live as a nation in Israel. Today as in ancient times, the struggles between Israel and its enemies are actually a reflection of a battle between competing ideologies and value systems.

 

● Translation: R. Dovid Sussman

● Editing and adaption: R. Yitzchak Twersky, Academic Language Experts

 

Siman Labanim is a ground-breaking English translation of Rav Kashtiel’s popular collection of shiurim on the weekly parasha. With this publication, his uplifting writings are accessible to a wider audience. Rav Kashtiel, the Rosh Yeshiva of the post-army program of Bnei David in Eli, is the author of many volumes of parshanut on the Tanach and has long been one of the most prominent Religious Zionist voices in Israel today. If you wish to purchase the sefarim, please contact Maura Ruskin at +972-523826844.

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