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Home » Lech L'cha

Lech Lecha: The Secret Life of King Og

Submitted by on October 27, 2020 – 8:42 pmNo Comment | 1,419 views

When our ancestors sought to cross the Jordan into Israel, the fierce and powerful Bashanites, led by their mighty king Og, stood in their way to prevent their passage. Moses was initially fearful of Og until G-d said, “Don’t fear Og because I have delivered him and his land to you.”[1]

Moses was not afraid of Og’s physical might though he was incredibly powerful. The Talmud tells us that Og was an old man. He was mor than 800 years old. He was alive during the great flood and survived it by holding on to the roof of Noah’s ark. If that doesn’t give you an indication of his brute strength, I don’t know what does.

In the days of Abraham, there was a bloody war during which Og’s tribe, the Refa’im, was destroyed. Our sages tell us that they were called Refa’im because it means rafeh, slack or soft—the heart of anyone who as much as looked at them would melt like wax.[2] You can only imagine how powerful were the armies that conquered Og’s tribes, yet if Og outfought them and escaped, he was surely a powerful man.

Moreover, he was a veritable giant. The Talmud tells us that Moses stood ten cubits tall and had a sword ten cubits long. In the war against the Bashanites, Moses slew Og and this is how he managed it. He leaped ten cubits in the air, swung his sword with all his might against Og, and connected with Og’s ankle. He managed to dislodge Og and ran the length of his body to kill him.

Yet, Og’s physical prowess did not intimidate Moses. What worried Moses was Og’s relationship with Abraham. When Og survived the war that destroyed his tribe, he came to Abraham as a fugitive. Og then informed Abraham that his nephew Lot had been taken captive in the war.[3] Undeterred by the fearsome strength of those who had decimated the Refa’im and had taken Lot captive, Abraham rallied his household, pursued the victorious army, and miraculously managed to free his nephew.

As Abraham placed his faith in G-d and did not fear the physical might of his enemies, so did Moses. Moses did not fear Og and would have plunged into battle with him undeterred as he had done with all the enemies he had faced before. But Moses feared Og’s relationship with Abraham. He had informed Abraham about Lot and Abraham owed him. Moses worried that Abraham’s merit would protect Og until G-d assured him that this would not be the case.[4]

Abraham’s Household
On the surface, this is the extent of Og’s relationship with Abraham. However Jewish mysticism teaches that it went much deeper. According to the Zohar, the seminal work of the Kabbalah, Og joined Abraham’s household and when G-d instructed Abraham to circumcise himself and the male members of his household, Og agreed to be circumcised. This was a full year before our patriarch Isaac was born. Centuries later, when the Jews sought passage through his country on their way to Israel, Og felt confident that he would prevail because he had been circumcised for a full year before our patriarch was even born.[5]

These details provide a new insight into why Moses feared Og. He didn’t fear the merit that Og accrued by informing Abraham about his nephew Lot. That would have been a relatively minor merit especially when you consider that Og would have wanted to ingratiate himself with Abraham in whose home he sought refuge from the war.

No, Moses feared a much greater merit. A full twenty-nine yeas had elapsed between the war and Abraham’s circumcision. If Og joined Abraham’s household during the war and was still there when Abraham was circumcised, it means that he had become a long-term fixture in Abraham’s home. He likely studied the Torah with Abraham and adopted his ways. Otherwise, he would never have consented to be circumcised. By the time he was circumcised, he viewed himself as an authentic and integral member of Abraham’s household. This was the merit of Abraham that Moses feared.

Biblcal Proof
This is a fascinating claim, made in the esoteric section of the Torah, but can we find support for this in the Torah’s literal text? When we analyse the passage about Og and Abraham carefully we find all the support we need.

And the fugitive came and told Abram the Hebrew [about Lot], and he was living in the plain of Mamre the Amorite, the brother of Eshkol and the brother of Aner, who had struck a covenant with Abram.”

There are several anomalies in this verse. (A) why does the Torah tell us where Abraham was living at the time, why is this relevant? (B) Why is it relevant that Mamre, Eshkol, and Anar had struck a covenant with Abraham? (C) What was this covenant all about?

Our sages answered the last question for us. When G-d instructed Abraham to circumcise, he consulted with these three brothers. Anar advised him against circumcision at his old age. Eshkol advised him to circumcise clandestinely lest his enemies attack him while he is compromised. Mamre said that the G-d who had saved him before, would surely save him now. Mamre then reprimanded Abraham for even asking the question after receiving a direct instruction from G-d. Therefore, when G-d visited Abraham after his circumcision, he visited him on Mamre’s property, rather than Eshkol or Anar’s property.[6]

The covenant that the Torah mentions in this passage alludes to the covenant of circumcision on which Abraham would consult them. But why is this advice pertinent in the middle of a war that occurred thirty years earlier? To tell us that Og, who had just arrived in Abraham’s home, would settle on these lands, and eventually be circumcised.[7]

Og’s Ultimate Failure
If Og was such a fixture in Abraham’s home, why did he leave, how did he come to be a king in Bashan, and why did he oppose the Jews? Moreover, why didn’t his merit protect him?

The answer is that Og turned his back on Abraham and his values. He desecrated his circumcision by sins of passion, and abandoned Abraham’s home. He didn’t simply walk away. He believed that he could use what he had gained from Abraham to destroy Abraham’s children.

But G-d’s love for His children is eternal; nothing can turn G-d against the Jews. No matter how meritorious our enemies are, no matter how righteous their bunting, they are no match for G-d’s love of the Jews. Over the course of history, G-d performed many miracles for us, but perhaps the greatest of all, is the simple fact of our survival. No other nation has survived as long as us with their heritage intact.

Indeed, we have suffered terribly on occasion, but let us not allow ourselves to forget that G-d loves us. The proof is in the pudding. Our very survival is a demonstration of His love. [8]


[1] Numbers 21:34.

[2] Bereishis Rabbah 26:6.

[3] Genesis 14:13. See Rashi ad loc.

[4] Babylonian Talmud, Nidah 61a cited in Rashi on Numbers 21:34.

[5] Zohar III 184a.

[6] Yalkut Shimoni, Lech Lecha 73.

[7] In addition, vayaged, the Hebrew word for, “he told (Abraham)” shares etymology with yagud (Genesis 49:19), which means to cut. Moreover, it shares etymology with gid, a reference to the male organ.

[8] This essay is culled from Likutei Levi Yitschak,he’aros lesefer Hazohar Shemos–Devarim, p. 390 as illucidated in Yalkut Levi Yitzchak Al Hatorah:1, pp. 223–225.