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Shabbat Parashat Balak 5779

Parashat Hashavua: Why to Be Afraid or Not Be Afraid of Og, and Who Killed the Giants? part II

Harav Yosef Carmel

Last week we saw that the giants were a prominent regional phenomenon for hundreds of years. They are first mentioned, with the name nefilim, already early in history, in Parashat Bereishit (Bereishit 6:4). We find at the time of Avraham that the four Mesopotamian kings killed out most of them, with Og being the remnant (see ibid. 14:5). When the spies returned from the Land of Canaan, they highlighted the presence of the three sons of the giant in Chevron (Bamidbar 13:22-33). On the way to Eretz Yisrael, the nation encountered Og, whose stature was described in great detail. In Devarim (2:10-11; ibid. 20-21), the relationship between the various groups of giants and the nations of Ammon and Moav is spelled out. When the navi describes the battles of Yehoshua after Bnei Yisrael crossed into the Land, the giants are once again stressed. They were removed from the whole country except for the area of Azza, Gat, and Ashdod, which would be known as the Land of the Plishtim (Yehoshua 11:18-22). Kalev asked as a reward for his valor in standing up to the spies to receive Chevron, so that he could (and did) remove the three giants (ibid. 15:14). David’s family and servants ended the era of the giants in Eretz Yisrael (Shmuel II, 21:16-21).

What is the message behind the presence and demise of the giants? How does it connect to how Hashem looked out for His nation? The struggle between Avraham and Nimrod-Amrafel started in Ur Kasdim. Avraham escaped miraculously from the furnace and then began his trek to and around Eretz Yisrael. Although his main focus was on forming a nation that would change Eretz C’na’an into Eretz Yisrael, he also hoped to rid himself of Nimrod. Avraham’s nation would be dedicated to pursuing charity and justice (see Bereishit 18:19), the opposite of Nimrod’s “values.” But Nimrod made it to Avraham’s Eretz C’na’an with other regional kings and conquered the land. This included a political statement that the land belonged to the descendants of Cham, not Shem.

Let us look back in history at the real purpose of Nimrod’s battles – to remove most of the giants from the Land, so that hundreds of years later it would be easier for Bnei Yisrael to enter Eretz Yisrael from the east. Moshe finished off the job by defeating Sichon and Og. Kalev removed giants from Chevron, but they still remained in the Plishti area. Why did they remain?

The Egyptians viewed Eretz C’ana’an as part of their sphere of influence. It provided them with a path to Mesopotamia. When the new Phlishtim, with a set of giants, arrived on its western coast, the Egyptians lost their free route. While this deterred Bnei Yisrael from taking the coastal path to the Land (Shemot 13:17), it also prevented the Egyptians from attacking. Only when David established a strong government in Jerusalem, with an army feared throughout the region, was there no longer a need for the giants to protect the coastal route. We see in the Torah (see Vayikra 26:32) the advantage at times of removing other inhabitants from the Land only at the right time from the perspective of Bnei Yisrael. Eventually, the sons of Avraham would set up a nation in the Holy Land dedicated to charity and justice. But the giants are just one example of something that was understandable only in historical retrospective, not at the time.
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