Rabbi Zvi Teichman
Moshe recalls the remarkable victories we experienced over the mighty warrior, Sichon, the king of Cheshbon, and his giant brother, Og, the king of Bashan.
The Torah goes on to record how in an earlier episode the nation of Ammon defeated the race of giants known as Refaim, with Og the only giant to escape. They took as a trophy of this great triumph the cradle that Og used as a child which was made of iron and measured nine cubits in length by four cubits in length, by the cubit of Og. The Torah’s detailed description of the precise size of his cradle as a child was to give us an idea of his enormous size and strength that these Ammonites were nevertheless able to overcome in his adulthood. ( עפ”י רשב”ם ורש”י)
The Targum Yehonoson says the Ammonites displayed this cradle in a museum as a testament to their own might.
Why does the Torah go to such great length in discussing the ‘cradle’ of Og and its significance to these warring nations? If it were simply to amplify the greatness of the miracle in defeating this powerful goliath, it could have described his size as an adult as it appears in the Talmud where it depicts his ankle alone as being thirty cubits off the ground.
The Midrash reports how when Yitzchok was weaned from his mother, Avraham celebrated the event with a banquet, inviting many dignitaries, among them Og. These kings who attended we are told were all decimated by Yehoshua when he conquered the land many generations later. The kings there taunted Og who was wont of calling Avraham ‘a barren mule who would never beget children’. Og quickly retorted by cynically portraying Yitzchok as a mere excuse of a child who was so puny that he could be crushed with his one finger. G-d hearing this disparagement declares to Og that he will yet see countless thousands and myriads of Yitzchok’s descendants into whose very hands he will fall. (ב”ר נג ז)
The Midrash concludes with the words of Rebbi Levi who said, the cradle was rocked for the first time in the house of our father Abraham.
Some commentaries suggest that Avraham was the inventor of the cradle, constructing it in a way that allowed for the child to be rocked and soothed. Others add that Yitzchok was actually the first child born undeveloped who would require constant nurturing as he would grow, whereas until that time children were born more fully developed and able to fend for themselves without significant outside intervention.
And there are those who suggest that the ‘rocking of the cradle’ refers figuratively to G-d having ‘rocked’ Og from his smug attitude towards Yitzchok, using the reference of his sturdy and large iron cradle as a metaphor for his misplaced overconfidence. (רש”י, מתנות כהונה, עץ יוסף)
Clearly though, this depiction of the stature and character of Og in contrast to the worthy descendants of Avraham, represents a struggle between these forces that is somehow embodied in the imagery of the cradle.
Og exemplifies invincibility. Yet from the earliest days of his youth, he is ensconced in a mighty bed that emphasizes his enormous size and strength.
‘Puny’ little Yitzchok on the other hand is born into this world extremely vulnerable. Accenting this weakness is his need for a cradle that would allow his caretaker to reassuringly rock him, subconsciously instilling within him the sense that although he is so vulnerable someone is looking after him.
In the culture of Og a child from its infancy would develop an attitude of self-preservation and independence. A child incubating in this environment, especially one possessed with the hardiness of Og, was likely to come to think of himself as invulnerable.
Sichon went out toward us — he and his entire people – for battle…
Og king of Bashan went out toward us — he and his entire people — for war… (במדבר ב לב – ג א)
The identical wording in these verses which describe these two ‘courageous’ brothers engaging in battle are instructive. Each of them arrogantly goes it alone, with their ‘people’ joining them, being described as merely a tangent, since it would have been more appropriate to write: ‘Sichon/Og and his entire people went out….’ They certainly counted on their prowess and might that have deemed them invincible. Wouldn’t it have been much easier for them to have enlisted the aid of their brother? But no, these ‘supermen’ thought they were unbeatable and needed only themselves. (רש”י, שפתי כהן)
As it turned out, Sichon and Og were handily defeated and fell on their faces and their delusional invulnerability.
The Torah emphasizes in several places that defeating these two nations were the ‘entrance fee’ before entering the Holy Land.
Avraham, our beloved Patriarch, in appealing to G-d for children to develop slowly — allowing for our instilling within them in their years of extreme vulnerability a sense of security and trust in a ‘hand’ that ‘rocks them from afar’— was teaching us one of the most vital messages for life.
We are all too often victims of our fear of vulnerability.
We are afraid to admit ignorance, lest we be perceived as unintelligent.
We fear asking for help, lest we appear weak and incapable.
We dread sharing our deepest feelings openly and honestly, lest we be viewed as emotionally infirm.
We recede from challenge lest we embarrassingly fail.
One who senses G-d’s constant love, concern and validation will never be ashamed nor defeated and will give themselves permission to expose their vulnerability.
On Tisha B’Av we face our vulnerability in the most profound way.
We have sinned, failed, suffered, shamed, and abused, yet we reassert that despite this failure and pain, He is still rocking our cradle, assuring us that He is there waiting with hope and encouragement until we finally ‘grow’ up.
Those who wear the armor of invincibility will inevitably fall on their faces. Those who are ready to shed the shackles of false pride, delusional power and foolish self-determination, permitting themselves to be honest in exposing their weaknesses, fearlessly reaching out towards their fellow man and G-d, will reap the rewards that await those who realize the steady hand that guides us amidst the most difficult of times and ‘rocks’ us so warmly.
We must each cast off the ‘Og’ within us, facing candidly our limitations but rising unabashedly to the challenges that face each one of us, restoring healthy relationships among ourselves and clinging to the hand that soothes us so reassuringly that we will indeed grow up.
What may seem like weakness now will blossom into newfound strength.
For G-d comforts Tziyon, He comforts her ruins, and He will make her wilderness like Eden, and her wastes like a garden of G-d, gladness and joy shall be found there, thanksgiving and the sound of music. (ישעיה נא ג)