Vayishlach – Block Out

This week’s Torah portion of Vayishlach presents us with the third mitzvah in the Torah, the commandment not to eat the gid hanasheh [sciatic nerve]. This mitzvah is based on the incident where Yaakov won a fight with an angel, but not before the angel crippled his sciatic nerve. The Sforno learns that Hashem sent down this angel, with the purpose of the encounter being to send a message to Yaakov that Hashem would save him and his children in all confrontations with Esav. And even though there might be material loss at times, such as his crippled nerve, ultimately, there will be salvation and blessing. At first the angel was powerless against Yaakov because Yaakov attached himself to Hashem fully and constantly in thought and speech; but the angel eventually began telling Yaakov of the sins the future leaders of Israel would commit, which made Yaakov start to worry. This ultimately detached him from Hashem, which allowed the angel to smite him in the hallow of his thigh (the location of the sciatic nerve) during the skirmish. When the sun rose the next day Yaakov was healed.

The Torah ends this episode by stating: “Therefore the Children of Israel do not eat the sciatic nerve which is on the socket of the hip until this day, for he touched the socket of Yaakov’s hip by the sciatic nerve” (Breishis 32:33). The Sforno explains why it is forbidden to eat this area on a kosher animal: “In order so that the damage inflicted [by the angel] when he touched the hip socket, will not be a damage which we are concerned about.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

As Rabbi Raphael Pelcovitz puts it: “The prohibition to eat the gid hanasheh, the sinew of the thigh vein, is not in memory of this event, but to demonstrate for all time that the damage inflicted upon Yaakov by the angel is of no account to us and we eschew it completely to indicate that it is of no importance to us.”

One would think that if this episode was really of no importance, then there would be no reason to forbid eating that area. Should we not just ignore the whole issue if we truly don’t care? Why make a big deal out of it and make a mitzvah to not eat it, simply to show it is unessential to us? It sounds counterproductive!

However, it would seem that if we were permitted to eat this area of the thigh, then every time it was on someone’s plate in front of them they might start thinking about the incident of Yaakov and the angel and get all worked up about it. That is human nature, to have a physical stimulus trigger thoughts in one’s head. And even after 4,000 years it can’t simply be ignored! Therefore, we have to actively take it out of our consciousness by not being put into a situation where we might get worked up about it.

We learn from here an important lesson often overlooked! Something that is bothering you cannot just be ignored. It just doesn’t work that way. One has to take steps to eliminate or handle the bothersome problem.

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