The Jolly Green Giant, Goliath, Andre the Giant, and Hagrid are just the start to the list of famous giants. There are many more that I imagine your mind jumps to when I ask you, who is a famous giant? Giants aren’t only found in fables and superhero tales. The Jews have our own giant too.
In this weeks portion, we’re told about a recurring minor character in the Torah, Og the King of Bashan. He appears here and there as a thorn in the side of the Israelite. In this week’s portion, Devarim, the opening portion of the book of Deuteronomy, we read the following (Deut. 3:11):
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Only King Og of Bashan was left of the remaining Rephaim. His bedstead, an iron bedstead, is now in Rabbah of the Ammonites; it is nine cubits long and four cubits wide, by the standard cubit!
A bed of that size is fitting for a person who is nearly 16 feet tall, more or less. Why the Torah feels the need to establish his gargantuan size is an important question to be asking. Why does this guy keep popping up? It’s not only in the Torah where he appears either.
The following fantastical story appears in the Talmud1:
[Og] said, “How large is the camp of Israel? Three parasangs (approx. 10 miles). I will go and uproot a mountain three parasangs wide and throw it on them and kill them! He went and uprooted the mountain and hoisted it up over his head. But the Holy One sent grasshoppers, which dug holes in the mountain, and it collapsed around Og’s neck. He tried tried to cast it off, and gnashed his teeth from side to side, but he could not get it off…Then Moses, whose height was ten cubits, took an ax ten cubits long, and jumped ten cubits into the air, and struck Og in the ankle, and killed him.
He is also referenced as the survivor in Genesis 14 that came to inform Avram about the battle of the Kings. Even earlier he is seen as the remaining member of the fallen mighty ones that survived the flood. The Rabbis of the Midrash Tanhuma picture him sitting on the rungs of Noah’s ark being sustained through a hole by Noah himself.
Honestly, it’s sort of strange why he lives in the heads of the Rabbis. Unless, of course, they know what we know about giants. Not only do they fascinate us for their unique size but they are often felled by those who are much smaller than them. We can see that in the story where Moses chops one down at the ankles.
We are small. Not just in relation to giants but in our minds often. We self-diminish and are made small by others. We feel this smallness in so many different contexts: our fears, anxieties, worries, relationships, etc. It’s such a human experience. While we often fall prey to this mindset, we also (hopefully) know what it feels like to conquer those “giant” things.
That’s why I think the Torah and the Rabbis utilize Og character so oft
en. He is the stand in for all of that stuff. Even this giant figure lasting for centuries can be toppled by tiny things. So the next time you’re in a situation and you’re feeling tiny, remember Og and his humorously sized bed and then remember that he was toppled by some grasshoppers and a cut on the ankle.
You’ve got that in you too.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Weekend!