Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Chukat
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated to the full recovery of

Asher Ishaayahu Ben Rivka

Parashat Chukat

The Spirit Always Prevails

Og king of the Bashan believed that brute physical might is the determining factor in war, and that one who possesses such might is bound to triumph. Yet, in truth, it is the spirit that always triumphs.


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

Parashat Chukat, 5762
The Sages relate that Og king of the Bashan said: "What is the size of the Israelite Camp? Three square 'Parsaot' (Persian miles)." He then went and uprooted a mountain encompassing three square "Parsaot" with the intention of throwing it onto the Israelites. As he carried the stone above his head, the Almighty caused ants to come upon it, and they penetrated the mountain, until it fell on his head and became lodged on his neck. He wanted to pull it off, but its "teeth" (i.e., projecting sides) extended in each direction, as it is written: "You 'smash' the teeth of the wicked." Rather than reading it "smash" ("Shibarta"), read it "extended" ("Shirbavta"). Moses was ten cubits in height, yet, compared to Og, he was very short. What, then, did he do? He took a spear ten cubits in height, jumped ten cubits, struck Og in his ankle, and killed him.

This, then, is how the Talmud describes the confrontation between Moses and Og king of the Bashan. What we have here, of course, is an idea hidden in symbolism. Og believes that brute physical might is the determining factor in war, and that one who possesses such might is bound to triumph. Og was not perturbed by Israel's spiritual strength. Yet, he was defeated. Without values, it is impossible to succeed. The "teeth" of the mountain that extended in each direction symbolize inner division and defilement - power-struggles within the ranks of Og's army.

As a matter of fact, Og's placing the mountain on his head is what eventually brought about his death via the blow in his ankle. He fell, and the stone smashed his head. The spirit always triumphs. This is what our sages wished to tell us in this Midrash. Sometimes it takes time and is not visible to the eye, yet, in the end, spirit always prevails over matter. Matter deteriorates and passes. It is large and impressive but possesses no permanency. Spirit itself possesses degrees of potency. The highest degree is faith in the Almighty and His Law; the stronger this faith is, the more assured, speedy, and complete is victory.

Israel's first war after entering the Land of Israel was with Sichon, the King of Cheshbon. It is said of Rabbi Kook, zt"l, that when he traveled in the Diaspora and spoke about the importance of coming to live in the Land of Israel. People would respond by making calculations as to whether or not such a move would actually be feasible. The Rabbi explained that a Jew must immigrate to Israel with trustfulness and confidence. This is the reason, explained the Rabbi, that the King of "Cheshbon" - which means "calculation" in Hebrew - had to be defeated first.

In our Torah portion ("Chukat") the Jewish people have come a long way. The earlier battles, in which there had been great sanctification of God's name, have passed. The Children of Israel now find themselves opposite the Jordan, in a land that will become sanctified only after Israel has crossed over onto the Western side of the river. We find ourselves in a similar situation today. We already have a number of victories under our belt, but the battle is not yet over. The Torah lights our way, and we advance with complete confidence that all opposition will be crushed in the face of Israel's mighty faith - a faith that is growing ever stronger.

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