Parsha Ponders: The Dormant Merit
by Rabbi Rafi Wolfe
“Hashem said to Moshe: ‘Do not fear [Og], as I have given him, his entire nation, and his land into your hand. You shall [be able to] do to him as you did to Sichon, the Aramean King, who dwelled in Cheshbon.’”
After forty years in the wilderness, the Jews had begun their final journey towards the Land of Israel. They entered the land of Sichon, the King of the Amorites. They successfully conquered his land, and further journeyed towards the land of the Giant Og, King of Bashan. Hashem told Moshe not to fear Og, as their victory was guaranteed. It would seem as if Moshe was afraid of Og? Why? Rashi brings an explanation from our Sages that Og had actually been alive since the time of Avraham. He was the one who informed Avraham that the latter’s nephew Lot had been taken captive during an intense civil war. This knowledge gave Avraham the chance to rescue his nephew, which he successfully accomplished. Moshe was worried that this merit from hundreds of years earlier might grant Og victory over the Jews. Hashem comforted him and told him not to worry, as the Jews would emerge victorious. (Niddah 61a; Midrash Tanchuma, Chukat 25)
How could Moshe have been worried that Og telling Avraham about Lot would give him any merit? We know that Og had bad intentions. He told Avraham solely so that Avraham would die in battle and Og could then marry Avraham’s wife Sarah. (Rashi, quoting Midrash Aggadah, Numbers 21:26) Although it was a very good thing that he did, having negative intentions should have prevented it from being considered a mitzvah. As well, Hashem already promised Moshe that He would bring them into the Land of Israel. What was there to fear? How could Og have ever stopped them?
It would appear that Moshe surely knew that Og couldn’t have stopped them. However, every mitzvah deserves its reward. (Pesachim118a) At the end of the day, Hashem’s name was sanctified with Avraham’s miraculous victory in the civil war. This was because Og informed Avraham about Lot’s capture. Since he was the cause, there was some merit that was generated. Even though his negative intentions deserved punishment, the good that came from it comes with its reward.
This tension needed a resolution. Would Og be meritorious enough to stop the Jews? Or would his evil intentions override the reward? Of course, Hashem’s judgment would determine that the Jews would be victorious. They were promised to enter the Land of Israel, and there was no way Og could stop them. However, Moshe wanted their victory to be a result of Hashem’s love, not as a result of His judgment. Hashem reassured Moshe that their victory would be solely because of His love for the Jewish nation, and not because of a judgment call weighing out Og’s reward against the promise to the Jews.
At the end of the day, we can learn from this the power of a single good deed. Although Og had horrible intentions — he wanted Avraham to die — it created some reward. This reward was dormant for hundreds of years. It was almost enough to override Hashem’s promise to the Jews. One might think it would not count for anything. However, since at the end of the day something good came of it, it could not be completely ignored. When we perform good deeds, they may not always have pure intentions. Of course, having no ulterior motives is the ideal. At the same time, whatever motivates us to help others, there is some reward in store for us. That should inspire us to do our best to get rid of those ulterior motives.
- Source: based on Darash Moshe, Numbers 21:34, by Rav Moshe Feinstein