Our Gemara on Amud Beis delves into the discussion of whether certain signs, known as simanim, are powerful enough identifiers to be relied upon in matters pertaining to Torah law.
Rav Ashi states the following: If there is a hole in a specific location next to a particular letter in a bill of divorce, which serves as a distinct and prominent distinguishing mark for the owner.
The Gemara, in Bava Metzia 28a, derives the concept of simanim (distinguishing marks) from a verse in Devarim 22:2. Rava explains that the identification of an item based on distinguishing marks is mandated by Torah law. The verse states, “And if your brother is not near you and you do not know him, then you shall bring it into your house, and it shall be with you until your brother seeks [derosh] it, and you shall return it to him.” Rava emphasizes that one should not return a lost item until the finder scrutinizes the claimant to determine whether they are genuine or potentially deceitful. This scrutiny includes verifying whether the claimant provides distinguishing marks as proof of ownership.
The Zohar, in Chukas 184a, also derives the concept of simanim from the same verse but with a different approach and context. The word “it” in the phrase “until your brother seeks [derosh] it” is written in Hebrew as אותו (oso), which also means a sign or marker. For example, tefilin are referred to as signs (osos) on our arms and heads (Shemos 13:9). According to the Zohar, the verse can be understood as “and it shall be with you until your brother seeks its sign,” implying that the claimant must prove their ownership by showing a distinguishing sign or mark (אות שלו).
Expanding on this interpretation, the Zohar notes that the word אותו (oso) is written with a full form, including the vowel “vav,” in two instances in the Torah: when referring to a lost object and when describing Moshe’s battle with Og, the King of Bashan. This highlights that both situations involve signs. In the case of the lost object, as previously discussed, the sign serves as proof of identification. In the case of the battle against Og, the verse states (Bamidbar 21:34):
וַיֹּ֨אמֶר ה׳ אֶל־מֹשֶׁה֙ אַל־תִּירָ֣א אֹות֔וֹ כִּ֣י בְיָדְךָ֞ נָתַ֧תִּי אֹת֛וֹ וְאֶת־כל־עַמּ֖וֹ וְאֶת־אַרְצ֑וֹ וְעָשִׂ֣יתָ לּ֔וֹ כַּאֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשִׂ֗יתָ לְסִיחֹן֙ מֶ֣לֶךְ הָֽאֱמֹרִ֔י אֲשֶׁ֥ר יוֹשֵׁ֖ב בְּחֶשְׁבּֽוֹן׃
“But Hashem said to Moses, ‘Do not fear him, for I give him and all his troops and his land into your hand. You shall do to him as you did to Sihon, king of the Amorites, who dwelt in Heshbon.'”
The Zohar’s interpretation suggests that the phrase “Do not fear HIM אותו” can be understood as “Do not fear his sign,” indicating that Moshe should not be concerned about any merits Og may have gained through his assistance to Avraham. (We should note that our versions of Tanach do not have the אותו with the “vav” vowel, as Minchas Shai points this out without providing an explanation.)
Every Midrashic expansion of the narrative is rooted in resolving textual or contextual issues, serving as a proof text. In this case, the question arises as to why Moshe, chosen by God to deliver the Ten Plagues to Pharaoh, would be afraid of Og. After all, doesn’t Moshe possess greater merit and isn’t he the leader who is to help the Jewish people acquire their destiny and homeland? However, the answer lies in a deeper understanding. Moshe recognizes that even miraculous events like the Ten Plagues must align with a larger divine plan for the world. The “merit” that Moshe fears in Og is the advantage of fulfilling an essential aspect of God’s will. When evil appears to triumph over good temporarily, it is crucial to believe that it is part of a greater plan.