Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43 )
In this week’s Parsha, Yaakov is engaged in a fight for survival with the Esav’s Angel. Yaakov is able to overcome his attack, but the Angel does manage to wound him in his thigh. As a result of this damage, the Torah prohibits eating from the gid hanasheh (sciatic nerve) from kosher animals, which is located in the animal’s thigh.
The obvious question that arises is just because Esav’s Angel managed to harm Yaakov in the thigh area, why should there be an eternal prohibition to eat from that area on an animal? The Sefer HaChinuch explains that the that the reason for this Mitzva is to provide a hint to the Jewish people that even though they will experience many troubles in their exile at the hands of the non-Jewish nations, they should confidently remember that they will not be eradicated. The Jewish people will be around forever, and eventually a redeemer will come and rescue them from their oppressors. The hint is that Esav’s Angel that wrestled with Yaakov, wished to eradicate him and remove the Jewish people from the world. He was unsuccessful but he was able to wound him by touching his sciatic nerve. We learn from here that this is the way it is going to be throughout history – the nations will try to destroy us and they will significantly harm us but we will survive and, eventually, there will be salvation just as there was with Yaakov, as it says “the sun shone for him,” and his wound was fully healed.
Another support for the idea that the sciatic nerve represents our sufferings at the hands of the nations is suggested by the commentaries, based on the Zohar.1 The Rabbinic sources teach that the 365 negative Mitzvot correspond to 365 sinews on the body. In addition, they also correspond to the 365 days of the year. What day corresponds to the prohibition to eat the sciatic nerve? The Zohar teaches that it is none other than Tisha B’Av, the day when our enemies have succeeded in causing us the most harm. However, in the same way that Yaakov prevailed and his wound was healed at the end of the battle, we are similarly sure that at the End of Days, we will survive all our travails and will emerge complete, and Tisha B’Av will be transformed into a happy day.
The following, very interesting story, related by Rabbi Yissachar Frand about Rabbi Mattisyahu Salomon2. illustrates the idea that ultimately, we will survive while our enemies will perish. Rabbi Salomon learned in the famed Gateshead Yeshiva, located in the North of England, very close to Scotland. Wallsend is a town in England about ten miles from Gateshead. The significance of the city and the source of its name are the fact that the Roman Emperor, Hadrian conquered all of England when he was the emperor of Rome, but at that time Scotland was an independent country. In order to prevent the Scots from attacking, the Romans who had taken over England, built a wall which came to be known as Hadrian’s wall. This protective wall which Hadrian built to keep out the Scots ended in this city. That is why it was called Wallsend. Today, Wallsend is a tourist attraction because it is the last remnant of the wall that Hadrian built. The wall itself is just a pile of moss-covered stones, but people go there to see the historically significant artifact of the Roman Empire.
A Jewish American journalist once went to Wallsend to write a story. In the middle of the day, he realized that he had Yahrzeit for his father that day (the Yahrzeit is anniversary of one’s death). Although he was not observant, many non-observant Jews observe their parents’ Yahrzeit and say Kaddish. The man asked around, “Is there any place I can find a minyan in the middle of nowhere?” and he was told about the Gateshead Yeshiva. Rabbi Frand recounts:
“He came into the Beit Medrash (study hall) in Gateshead and saw—as is typical in a Yeshiva—that the Chavrusas were going at it with one another. One Chavrusa yelled to his study partner, “Rabbi Akiva holds just the opposite!” This American journalist recognized the name Rabbi Akiva. He knew that there was once such a person. Suddenly, it struck him: How did Rabbi Akiva die? He was put to death by the Romans. Which Romans? Hadrian! Hadrian was the Roman Emperor who killed Rabbi Akiva. What is left of Hadrian? A pile of stones that is nothing today. They are covered with moss. And what about Rabbi Akiva, who Hadrian put to death? Two thousand years later, people are still saying over Rabbi Akiva’s Torah, and still spending quality time analyzing his every statement and opinion. When the journalist went back to America and wrote his article, he wrote “the mighty Hadrian, who led massive armies to great victories, has nothing remaining of all his triumphs and conquests other than a pile of stones that was once a wall. Conversely, the teachings of Rabbi Akiva, which Hadrian sought to eradicate, are being studied and debated almost two thousand years after Rabbi Akiva’s death.”
This is the message of the gid hanasheh. They will try to defeat us. They will try to eradicate us. But the Jewish people are forever. We may suffer. We may limp. But at the end of the day, we will survive.<br>
By Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen
- Zohar, Vayishlach, 172.
- The Mashgiach of Lakewood Yeshiva.
Reprinted with permission
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