The prints in this series emerged from my essays on fairly marginal characters in the Bible. The material I discovered – mainly from the sages – was so rich that it inspired me to think in terms of a graphic interpretation of them. Naturally, what I had written influenced the way I portrayed these people, and I offer both of them to you.
– Mordechai Beck
Og King of Bashan
A Visual Midrash of Two Kings
In this print, the brothers, Og and Sihon, sit with their backs to each other. Both are armed for war, their knives are beneath their belts. Theirs is a pose of broigus, brotherly hatred, and they are not going to help each other; surely a message for us all after the 9th of Av.
“…after he had smitten Sihon the king of the Amorites, who dwelt in Heshbon, and Og the king of Bashan, who dwelt in Ashtaroth, at Edrei.” (Deuteronomy 1:4)
The names of Sihon king of Emor and Og king of Bashan appear frequently at the beginning of the book of Deuteronomy, in Devarim and Va'etchanan, and are even hinted at in Ekev (9:2). They are nasty people who attempted to prevent the Israelites from crossing in to the Promised Land – and thus had to be eliminated. But recalling victories over these kings goes against another religious value – rejoicing over the downfall of our enemies. What was so special about these two kings to mention them specifically?
We have already met Sihon in Numbers 21:21: “Israel sent messengers to Sihon King of Emor saying: Allow us to cross your territory, we will not turn into your fields or your vineyards, we will not drink from your wells, but will go by 'The Way of the Kings', until we have crossed your border. But Sihon would not permit Israel to cross his border and brought out all his people and went out to meet Israel in the desert...and Israel smote them and took the land.”
This conquest includes the city of Heshbon, since, “Heshbon was the city of Sihon king of Emor who had fought the first king of Moab and taken all his land up to Arnon” (Numbers 21: 21-27). Bamidbar Raba (19:29-30) elaborates on Sihon’s victories, saying that he took over the entire land of Canaan, and extracted tribute from them all. This is the “heshbon” (lit. account) that Sihon worried over – Canaan was his pot of gold – (di-zahab).
Og also appears in the same chapter of Numbers (21:33): “And they [the Children of Israel] turned and they went up by way of the Bashan, and Og king of Bashan came to meet them – he and all his people – at Edrei. And God said to Moses 'Don’t be afraid of him, because I have given him into your hands…just as you did to Sihon king of Emor... ’ ”
According to Pirkei DeRebbi Eliezer (23), Og is the last of the giants that flourished before the Flood and survived the Flood thanks to the generosity of Noah. In so doing, he swore eternal fealty to him. In another source, Og is identified with Eliezer, as part of a gift given by Nimrod to Abram after the latter had succeeded in emerging unscathed from the furnace into which the wicked king had thrust him. (Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer 15; Targum Yonatan 14:13). As a reward for his life-long fealty to Abraham (Zohar 3:184, he is the one who circumcises his master), God changes him into Og, King of Bashan.
While there are many other legends accorded to Og, suffice it to say that by the time Moses confronts him he has put on some years. “I am a mere 120 years old,” says Moses, “while Og is over 500 years old; surely that means he has some special merit (Bamidbar Raba 19:32). In another source, this is the reason why Moses was fearful of Og, as opposed to Sihon: he surely had merit-points still from his time with Abraham (Nidah 61), especially as the one who circumcised the ancestor of all the Jewish people. This is not to suggest that Sihon was somehow less than Og.
According to the Talmud, Og and Sihon were brothers. Both were of giant proportions: both are depicted as sitting on the walls of their respective capital cities with their legs reaching down to the ground. The appendix of Midrash Tanhuma (Dvarim) relates: “Sihon and Og were tougher than Pharaoh and his armies...” Despite this, they were both arrogant and the fact that they were neighbors did not help; neither would lift a finger to help the other.
What does this all mean? Perhaps it can be understood in juxtaposition with the verses Moses speaks shortly after the opening of the portion: “God spoke to us at Horeb and said...Behold I have given you the land – come and possess the land which was sworn to your ancestors – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – to give it to them and their descendants after them” (Deuteronomy 1:8).
Rashi explains that this is a proof text: “I didn’t tell you bubba meisers – look with your own eyes – the land is yours to take.”
Moses, in effect, is offering a commentary on what has been, and a vision of what can be in the future. Forget Og and Sihon – they’re myths, they may look scary and awesome – but we’ve beaten them in the past and we can beat them again. Eretz Canaan (Israel) is the reality with which you have to deal. This is not a promise of conquering the world – but just one, modest-sized country. Forget the sinful past. This leads to depression, sadness. Remember the covenant I made with your ancestors; here you are just a step away from fulfilling that promise.
There are many people today who still think in terms of the sins we have committed. “Because of our transgressions we were exiled from our land.” They cannot move forward. They are still mourning. They cannot rejoice in what their own eyes have shown them. This is the message of Moses here. A new age has dawned, new challenges. Seize it with both hands, without calculations, and go up to the Promised Land.