Thursday, December 4, 2014

Parsha: Why Remember Yaakov’s Injury and Not His Victory?

Rav Turetsky

Yaakov emerges from his battle with the Malach victorious but injured. Despite success, he suffered a blow that caused him to limp (Breishit 32:32), and, in commemoration of this event, the Torah (Breishit: 32:33) prohibits eating an animal’s Gid HaNasheh (sciatic nerve).  While always appropriate to memorialize historical events, it is not as clear why it is worthwhile to remember the Gid HaNasheh the way we do. We don’t recall the victory, as much as the injury. What is the purpose of a prohibition that reminds us of Yaakov’s pain?[1]

  1. Chizkuni (ad loc), Rosh (ad loc) and Sefer Chasidim (no. 231) offer various formulations of one basic idea. The prohibition serves as a reminder that Yaakov’s children did not act. They left their father alone and did not accompany him to provide help and support when he was traveling. As such, we are prohibited from eating Gid HaNasheh as a form of punishment for Yaakov’s children’s failure to properly support their father.
  2. An additional approach can be suggested based on Rashbam (ad loc) and other Mefarshim. They explain that the prohibition is not in recognition of a sin, but in appreciation of a miracle. Yaakov was injured, but he still defeated the Malach. He was brave and triumphant in his fight and spared from death through miraculous events. It seems possible to suggest that specifically the injury highlights the feat and wonder of Yaakov’s victory. He was in a dangerous place and he fought an opponent capable of seriously wounding him. This shows that the results could have been far worse, highlighting the greatness of the miracle.
  3. Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 3) writes that the mitzvah of Gid HaNasheh conveys an important idea about exile and hardships. Just like Yaakov was injured but still succeeded, the Jewish people similarly suffer in Galut but will eventually experience redemption. It is specifically remembering the injury that offers us solace in our times of pain and trouble. Yaakov was also wounded and oppressed, but he emerged successful and victorious.

May we be Zoche to experience the ultimate redemption!
Shabbat Shalom!

[1] See Rav Yerucham Levovitz’s Da’at Torah (ad loc). It should also be noted that there are Kabbalisitic reasons for this prohibition as well. See, for example, Ohr HaChaim (ad loc) and Derech Pikudecha (L.T. 3).  A thorough examination of the reasons for the Gid HaNasheh can be found in the Sefer Simlat Eliezer to Parshat Vayishlach no. 5.

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