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Torah Sparks

July 28, 2001 - 5761

Prepared by Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg
Temple Sinai, Hollywood, FL

Edited by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Deut. 1:1-3:22; Hertz Chumash, p. 736
Triennial Cycle III: Deut. 2:31-3:22; Hertz Chumash, p. 746
Haftarah: Isaiah 1:1-27; Hertz Chumash, p. 750

(1:1-8) A short introduction to Moses' words of warning spoken in various places during his last days. He reviews some of the important events of the desert wanderings, beginning with the departure from Mt. Sinai.

(1:9-18) The appointment of judges and officers that helped Moses in administering the Israelite camp.

(1:19-2:1) The incident of the spies that resulted in the extension of the wilderness wanderings to forty years.

(2:2-30) The stages of the Israelites' journeys through the territory of the Edomites, the Moabites, the Ammonites, with additional details about the inhabitants of those lands.

(2:31-3:11) Further review of the history of the desert wanderings, describing the victorious encounters with Sichon, king of Cheshbon, and Og, king of Bashan, with the emphasis on God's part in these decisive battles.

(3:12-22) The division of the land east of the Jordan among Reuben, Gad, and half of Menashe, who are reminded of their promise to send their warriors on with the rest of Israel to take part in the conquest of Canaan.

Theme 1: The Lord is With Me; I Have No Fear

But the Lord said to me, "Do not fear him (Og of Bashan), for I am delivering him and all his men and his country into your power, and you will do to him as you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who lived in Heshbon. (Deut. 3:2)

  1. The narrative emphasizes the superior physical strength of Israel's enemy. They were greater in number and the personal strength of their warriors was greater, many of who were actual giants. But what did all that matter for a people who had the certainty of following a path assigned by Hashem? True, they failed at first to follow the proper example of a Joshua or a Caleb and they spent forty years of trials at "the school" in the wilderness. Nevertheless, 600,000  Israelites, twenty years and older were now preparing themselves, almost without weapons, provisions, or experience, to scale the walls of fortresses, to enter the unknown land, to fight great armies. They were able to do so because of the knowledge that Hashem was with them. The Israelites deserved high praise. So Moses bestows it upon them eagerly. (S.R. Hirsch, quoted by Elie Munk; The Call of Torah: p. 32-33 (on verse 3:22))

Discussion Sparks:

In our personal lives, how does fear change what we do? How does fear prevent us from doing what we know we should do? What prevents us from conquering our fears? What does faith have to do with fear? Why does faith sometimes fail us? How can we develop a method to make faith work in conquering our fears?

Theme 2: Who or What Was Conquered?

So the Lord our G-d delivered into our power King Og of Bashan, with all his men, and we dealt them a blow that no survivor was left. At that time we captured all his town; there was not a town that we did not take from them: sixty towns, the whole district of Argob, the Kingdom of Og in Bashan. (Deut. 3:3-4)

  1. "Og, the king of Bashan who dwelt in Ashtarot" (Deut. 1:4) - The term shtarot denotes peaks and strength as in "strong mountains" (see Gen. 14:5) And this Ashtatrot is the same Ashtarot-Karnaim, where there were Rephaim (giants)...for only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of the Rephaim. (This proves that OG was a giant) (Rashi on Deut 1:4)
  2. Ashterot and Edrei - Ashtarot has been identified as Tell Ashterah, a site along the ancient "King's Highway" in Syria, about twenty miles east of Lake Tiberias. It is called Ashterot-Karnaim in Gen. 14:5. It is mentioned as a royal city, ruled by a king with a Semitic name, in the Amarna letters of the Late Bronze Age and in Ugaritic and Egyptian texts of that age... a connection between these two cities (Ashtarot and Edrei) as twin seats of government seems to be indicated in the Ugaritic text, which speaks of a god dwelling in Ashtarot and judging (or ruling) in "hdr'y", apparently a phonetic variant or scribal error for Edrei. The god is apparently named Rapiu, the Ugaritic singular of Rephaim, which is significant in view of Deut. 3:11 which states that Og was the last of the Rephaim. (J. Tigay, JPS Torah Commentary: Deuteronomy; Excursis 1; p. 418)
  3. Blessed is the fruit of your belly, the fruit of your soil, the fruit of your beasts, the offspring of your cattle, the lambs (ashterot) of your flocks (Deut. 28:4). They forsook Hashem and served Baal and Ashtarot. (Judges 2:13) (together with our verse). These passages linguistically illustrate the connection between Ashtarot and ewe worship. Only one slight change in vowel marks makes the difference between lambs and the goddess (or goddesses) referred to in the Book of Judges. Og's homeland (also known as Ashtarot-Karnaim) was one of Ashtarot's cult centers. (J. Antonelli; In The Image of God; p. 403-404)

Discussion Sparks:

How do history and theology mix in our passage?Does it matter if Og was a giant or a Ugaritic god? The Midrash is full of reasons why Moses and the Israelites apparently go out of their way to conquer Bashan. Does the text tell us why it was captured? Was it just a victory over another king, a victory over idolatry, a victory over a giant, a strategic victory or all of the above?

*** TISHA B'AV (Ninth Day of Av) begins tonight, after Shabbat. This full fast day commemorates the tragic two separate destructions of the Temple in Jerusalem.

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