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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Chukat

A FAVOR LIVES FOREVER

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"...Og, king of Bashan, went out against them to do battle in Edrei. Hashem said to Moshe, "Do not fear him, for into your hand I have given him." (21:33-34).

Our Sedra ends with a bizarre encounter between Og, the giant-warrior king of Bashan, & Moshe. Og has a fascinating history of survival: He was one of the Nefilim ("fallen angels," see Rashi BR: 14:13) who miraculously survived the flood by hanging onto the side of the Ark. Though his name ties for the shortest in all the Torah, he lived one of the longest lives – more than 500 years!

But why was Moshe so scared of Og? Moshe, too, was a fierce warrior, & he had just recently defeated the Cheshbon army, which was led by Sichon, another fearsome figure.

Rashi (21:34) explains that 500 years earlier, Og had done a favor for Avraham. In the battle of the 4 Kings vs. the 5 Kings (in Lech-Lecha), the city of S’dom had been captured, & with it, Avraham’s nephew Lot. Og, who had somehow survived that battle, too, came to Avraham to tell him of Lot’s fate. Avraham then joined the fight, turned the tide of the war, & rescued Lot. Moshe was afraid that the merit of this kindness done to Avraham would stand for Og & perhaps render him invincible. And so Hashem has to reassure Moshe that he would indeed emerge victorious.

Reasonable enough. But there is a tantalizing twist to this story: Rashi recounts that Og had a sinister, hidden agenda; he desired Sara – one of history’s most beautiful women (see Megila 15) - & hoped that Avraham would fall in battle, thus freeing Sara for him to take! So why give Og so much credit for breaking the news to Avraham?

The Torah is trying to teach us that every act of kindness, every favor that we do for another person – even if that act was done for a selfish reason - carries an immense reward & merit. Even if that act took place centuries ago, it will be "filed" in G-d’s eternal records & it will someday be recompensed in full or greater measure.

In August 1991, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was placed under house arrest in an abortive coup led by members of his own party. Three years prior, Gorbachev had surprisingly ushered in Glasnost ("openness") and eased restrictions of the USSR’s basic freedoms, allowing for the emigration for Soviet Jews. The first person to come see him was the late Elie Wiesel. Astonished, Gorbachev asked why he had come. Wiesel said simply, "We Jews never forget a goodness that is done for us."

And neither does Hashem. Never, ever.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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