Believe it or not, there was a time when Moses was afraid. Yes, the greatest leader of all time—the man who fought and vanquished Pharaoh, split the sea, challenged the angels on high for the rights to the Torah—this spiritual colossus was afraid. Who and what could possibly frighten Moses?

At the end of the Torah portion of Chukat (Numbers 19:1–22:1) we read that G‑d reassured Moses, “Do not fear him.” Why did Moses need reassuring? The story is this. The Israelites were about to go into battle against Og, king of Bashan, a mighty warrior, a man who was literally a giant. And Moses was afraid to such an extent that the Almighty had to assuage his fears.

Why did Og inspire such dread in the great prophet? Surely Moses had dealt with more formidable threats in his career. According to Rashi, the story goes back many years. Og (or, according to some commentaries, the ancestor of the current king) escaped from battle during the days of Abraham. This refugee then came to Abraham and informed him of his nephew Lot’s capture in battle. Abraham immediately went into action, fought the kings who had captured Lot, and successfully rescued him. Says Rashi: Moshe was afraid to do battle with Og, for the merit he had acquired when helping Abraham might stand him in good stead.

In other words, the fact that Og had done a kindness to Abraham all those years ago might be considered of such special significance that he would be spiritually protected from harm in the merit of Abraham, the beneficiary of his good deed.

But was it really such a good deed? The same Rashi (in his commentary on Genesis 14:13) informs us that Og’s motives were not altogether altruistic. Apparently, by telling Abraham that his nephew Lot had been taken captive, Og was actually hoping that Abraham would attempt to rescue his nephew and be killed in battle, so that Og could then take Abraham’s beautiful wife, Sarah, for himself. Hardly an act of magnanimous righteousness! Why would Moses be worried about the spiritual merit of conduct tainted by such ulterior motives?

The answer, it would seem, is that although Og’s motives were far from unselfish, the fact is that he had done Abraham a kindness. Abraham was grateful for the information and was, in fact, successful in saving Lot from his captors. So, although Og’s reasons were less than noble, the end result of his deed was good, and Abraham considered it a favor.

That’s why Moses was afraid that Og’s spiritual credits might protect him. And that is why the Almighty needed to put Moses’ mind at ease: Do not fear him, for into your hand have I given him, his entire people and his land.

It is an incredible lesson in the power of chessed, acts of loving kindness. That one good turn, performed so many years back and out of sinister motivation, could cause Moses himself so much anxiety is surely proof positive of the awesome and long-term positive effects of a single act of kindness.

Clearly, from a spiritual point of view, deeds of goodness and kindness have the power to protect us from harm. Performing a single act of compassion, or helping someone in need, really does have the capacity to shield us. In the end, we are not only helping them, but helping ourselves.

Let this story inspire us to be a little more considerate to each other, and a little more helpful to those around us. And may our benevolence protect us and our families from any harm.