And Og the King of Bashan went out against them, he and all his people, to the battle at Edre’i. And Hashem said to Moshe, “Do not fear him because I have delivered him into your hand, and all of his people…” (Bamidbar 21:33–34)
Once, long ago, there was a great war between two groups of several nations. Eventually, one side prevailed, took prisoners and returned home victorious. On the losing side, one man escaped and traveled to the home of one of the wealthiest men of that time to inform him that his nephew was among the captives. The wealthy man went out and miraculously was able to defeat the victors, free his nephew and glean great wealth as the spoils of war.
This familiar tale is, of course, the story of Avraham Avinu, who did battle after the war of the Four Kings against the Five Kings and was able to save his nephew Lot from captivity. The messenger who reported the capture of Lot to Avraham was none other than Og, king of Bashan, in this week’s parashah.
Avraham’s miraculous victory was not what Og expected when he brought our Patriarch the news of Lot’s capture. He envisioned a zealous uncle going up against a powerful enemy, resulting in Avraham’s death and leaving Sarah Imeinu a widow available to marry.
Knowing of Og’s bad intentions changes the picture from that of a man deserving unlimited reward to one of a wicked individual deserving punishment. Yet, in spite of Og’s immoral plans, we see that Moshe Rabbeinu, a man of unlimited merit and unparalleled closeness to Hashem, was in fear of the giant, thinking that the merit of delivering the message to Avraham would be enough to tip the scales in Og’s favor and allow him to harm Moshe. To quell his fears, Hashem promised, “Do not fear him for I will deliver him into your hands” — in spite of his merit!
If we were to be asked, we would protest that not only does Og not deserve a reward, but he should be killed for his evil intentions! Yet, Moshe Rabbeinu felt there was cause for fear.
How wrong our assessments can be. There are times when a person does a good deed that he or she feels is not at all significant. A person knows the motives behind his or her actions and may know that the mitzvah was not done for the sake of Heaven — thereby reducing its perceived value. However, from the reaction of Moshe Rabbeinu to the “good deed” done by Og, we see clearly that we too often underestimate the value of a mitzvah.
We also see that Hashem does not hold back from rewarding every person for the good that he or she does. Consider, for a moment: A gentile, Og, did one good deed and did it for selfish motives rather than spiritual success, and the potential reward struck fear in the heart of our great leader. How much more so is reward granted to a Jew who does any good deed for good reason?
In our battle with the evil inclination, we must remember Og and do what we know to be good, even if our motives are less than perfect. Any mitzvah is a good thing that is a sin to waste.