CHUKAS (Numbers, 19:1-22:1) — “The Bigger They Are…”

War is nothing new to the Nation of Israel.  We’ve been fighting them for millennia.  There we were, in the desert, minding our own business, seeking to co-exist peacefully with our neighbors.  The Amorites had other ideas.

Moses sent a message to Sichon, the Amorite king, requesting permission to pass through his land.  An “environmental impact statement” accompanied the request:

We will not turn aside to the fields and vineyards, and we will not drink any well water.  We will follow the king’s highway (i.e., we will stay off the local streets where our animals might be tempted to nibble on food in someone’s field) until we pass through your land.”  (Numbers, 21:22)

Sichon, a powerful giant, responded to this request by attacking them.  That was a mistake.  Sichon and his fortified city of Cheshbon (in what is now Jordan) were defeated by the divinely protected Nation of Israel.  Cheshbon was now a Jewish neighborhood!

Next, Israel proceeded to Bashan.  (The Golan Heights)  Og, the king of Bashan, was also a giant, and the brother of Sichon.  Og, too, organized an army against Israel, and once again, we were forced to fight off an aggressor.  This time, however, Moses needed some encouragement:

G-d said to Moses, ‘Don’t be afraid of him.  I have given him, along with all his people and territory, into your hand.  You will do to him the same as you did to Sichon…‘” (21:34)

G-d doesn’t waste words.  He told Moses not to be afraid to fight Og.  That reassurance was apparently unnecessary in the war against Og’s brother Sichon.  What was different about Og?  Rashi explains that Moses was afraid that Og would be rewarded for a Mitzvah he had done many years before.

Not only was Og a giant, he was a very old giant.  When Lot, Abraham’s nephew and brother-in-law, was captured, Og reported this news to Abraham.  (Genesis, 14:13)  This information made it possible for Abraham to save Lot from his captors.  Og had performed this Mitzvah so many years before, and Moses feared that the merit of this Mitzvah would protect him from Israel.  Therefore, says Rashi, G-d had to assure Moses that didn’t have to worry about Og.

There is a difficulty with this interpretation.  Rashi, in explaining a verse in the Book of Numbers, appears to have forgotten what he wrote in Genesis!!  Back in Genesis, Rashi tells us WHY Og provided Abraham with the news about Lot.  Was it an altruistic desire on Og’s part to see Lot saved?  Not at all, explains Rashi.  The reason Og informed Abraham that his nephew was in danger was that he knew that Abraham would spare no effort to save him.  Og was hoping that Abraham would go to war to save Lot and be killed in battle.  This would leave Sarah available to become Mrs. Og!!!!!!

What a Mitzvah!!  Og tells Abraham to go save Lot so he can be killed and Og can marry his widow!  With friends like Og, who needs enemies?!  How could Moses actually suspect that G-d would reward Og for such a deceitful, treacherous act?


The Torah teaches us that we are obligated to express our appreciation to those who are kind to us.  One good turn, they say, deserves another.  However, if someone is kind to us, we may be tempted to carefully sift through the evidence to determine whether there might be ulterior motives that led to the favor.  Maybe she only lent me a cup of sugar today because she plans to borrow something from me tomorrow. So why should I be appreciative of such a manipulative person?

 Moses refused to think in those terms.  Og did us a favor, Moses reasoned.  He helped Lot by sending Abraham to save him! Why shouldn’t G-d reward him, thought Moses.  Ulterior motives are not my business; they are G-d’s.  Only when G-d himself told Moses not to worry about Og, that his intent in doing that Mitzvah was not to help Abraham, was Moses comfortable in knowing that Israel would not be defeated.

If someone does you a favor, don’t scrutinize it for background information; that’s G-d’s job.  Just say “Thank you.”

Have a great Shabbos

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.


From the Archives

Some years the two Torah Portions of Chukas and Balak are read together, and some years they are read on two separate Sabbaths. For your convenience, here are links to both Portions:


“A Sad Shabbos in New York State” (2011)

… While some societies have not condemned these activities the way the Torah does, it was always recognized that the institution of marriage was about a man and a woman. A man doesn’t marry his car. A man doesn’t marry his pet iguana. And a man doesn’t marry a man…

Last Shabbos, we read the story of Korach. Korach didn’t like the way the Commandments were working out…

Last Friday night … the State of New York decided to emulate Korach…

How did this tragedy/travesty in New York happen? It’s really rather simple…

Read more.


“Who’s ‘The MAN’? … YOU’RE ‘The MAN’!” (2010)

… Ezekiel cites the special relationship between G-d and Israel…

The Talmud interprets “…you are Man…”, to mean “You (i.e., Israel) are called ‘MAN; the nations of the world are not called ‘MAN.’

What does the Talmud mean by, “You are called ‘MAN; the nations of the world are not called ’MAN’”? Certainly it can’t mean to humiliate Gentiles and to consider them less than human! The Talmud is replete with references to the fact that all of humanity was created in G-d’s Image. We share the planet with our fellow Children of G-d.

So what does it mean?…

Read more .


“Tattle-Snakes & Copperheads” (2005)

G-d said to Moses, “Make for yourself a fiery serpent and place it on a pole. Anyone who has been bitten will look at it and live.” Moses made a snake out of copper and placed it on a pole; so it was that anyone who had been bitten would stare at the copper snake and live

The symbolism is beautiful. Like the snake in the Garden of Eden, they sinned with their tongues. Since they acted like snakes, they were punished with snakes. After sinning with their mouths they repented with their mouths. They corrected the wrong by using their mouths properly. Moses undid the poison of the miraculous punishing-snakes with a miraculous healing-snake.

Great! Just one question. What’s the deal with the copper?…

Read more.


“The Kiss of LIFE” (2004)

The “Brothers ben-Amram” both died shortly before the Israelites entered the Land of Canaan (Israel) … Our Sages point out a contrast between the nation’s reaction to these deaths. The Children of Israel wept for Moses, while the entire House of Israel wept for Aaron.

The Children (literally, sons) of Israel wept for Moses. The men wept over the loss of their respected judge. The entire House of Israel, men and women, wept over the loss of their beloved peacemaker…

Moses and Aaron had different jobs… the mourning for Aaron was more widespread than for Moses.

Whose approach was better? Who was a better advocate of proper behavior?…

Read more.


“Stone Drunk” (2002)

… The People were thirsty. … Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his staff. A great deal of water gushed out, and provided water for the community and their animals.”

G-d was furious: “Since you (and Aaron) didn’t have enough faith in Me to sanctify Me in the presence of the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly to the land that I have given them.”

… the people witnessed a great miracle. A rock was struck, and water flowed from it. The Israelites hadn’t seen a miracle like that in 40 years! How is this a lack of faith on Moses’ part? …

Read more.


“The Bigger They Are…” (2001)

Og … organized an army against Israel, and once again, we were forced to fight off an aggressor. … Moses needed some encouragement:

G-d said to Moses, ‘Don’t be afraid of him…”

G-d doesn’t waste words. He told Moses not to be afraid to fight Og. … Moses was afraid that Og would be rewarded for a Mitzvah he had done many years before…

What a Mitzvah!! Og tells Abraham to go save Lot so he can be killed and Og can marry his widow! With friends like Og, who needs enemies?! How could Moses actually suspect that G-d would reward Og for such a deceitful, treacherous act?…

Read more.



“Rocky Road” (2010)

…What’s with this guy?! He’s a sorcerer, the great Midianite prophet! He is “one who knows the mind of the Supreme One.” (Verse 16) How is it so hard for him to see that G-d doesn’t want him to do this?

… it all started with a question. G-d had asked Balaam, “Who are these people?”

“Aha!” thought Balaam. “G-d doesn’t know everything! He needs to ask me who these people are! If I play my cards right, I’ll be able to pull the wool over His eyes and curse His beloved Nation.”…

Read more.


“How Good is YOUR Tent?” (2007)

…Balak, the Moabite king, hired Balaam to curse Israel. Now why, you may ask, would an anti-Semite like Balak need to hire someone to curse Jews? Plenty of people would be happy to do it for free!

Cursing, you see, is a great talent. Some people do it better than others. Balaam was a pro…

Read more.


“Of Television, Toilets, and Idolatry” (2003)

… There was, however, one condition demanded by the Midianites. They insisted that their “clients” pay homage to their idol, “Baal Pe’or.”

… “You don’t have to pray to our idol, or even to bow to it. All you have to do is…

Have you ever heard of anything so bizarre? …

Read more.


“Will the REAL Jackass Please Speak Up?” (2000)

… Balaam still didn’t get it. Three times, Balaam tried to curse the Nation of Israel; three times, they came out as blessings… Fired from his job by Balak, Balaam went home in disgrace.

What was going on in Balaam’s head? How could a great oracle who was “One who knows the mind of the Supreme One,” make such a mistake? How could he be so blind to the fact that G-d didn’t want him to go on this mission? How did this brilliant prophet allow his donkey to make a jackass out of him?!

The answer can be seen from one of Balaam’s communications with Balak…

Read more.


This is the weekly message at Copyright © 2000-2012 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz. May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel ( and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.


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Published in: on June 27, 2001 at 12:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

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