By R’ Naftoly Bier
In Chapter 32, Verse 25, it says, “And Yaakov was alone and a person (the angel of Esav) fought with him…” Rashi explains why he was alone, not with his family; for he had forgotten some small jugs. But why would he risk his life to be alone when Esav had amassed an army to fight Yaakov? Chazal teach us, “that to the righteous, their possessions are more dear than their bodies.” How can that be? One’s life supersedes the obligation of most mitzvos; surely one’s jugs?!
The next verse states, “…And the joint of Yaakov’s thigh was dislocated…” In verses 32-33 it states, “…And he limped… Therefore, we don’t eat the sinew of weakness which is on the joint of the thigh until this day because he (the angel) gripped… on Yaakov.”
What is the import of this pain that it is immortalized as a mitzvah? The גמרא in מס’ חולין צא teaches that the נביא ישעי’ה, the prophet Isiah, 9:7, taught us the grave importance of and fundamental of Jewish life that is the foundation of this mitzvah.
“G-d sent a message unto Yaakov and it found its place in Israel, all the people should understand it… Those… who with arrogance declare, ‘we will still vanquish our enemies’… Though Hashem is the one who has sent enemies against them, they won’t return to Hashem”.
The גמרא teaches the lesson of the prohibition of the גיד הנשה is that Esav will never be able to conquer Yaakov through the ages but will be able to hamstring him. We, by not eating the גיד הנשה, are proclaiming that our existence is not dependent on physical strength, but on Hashem’s love. If we do fall, it’s due to not submitting ourselves to the dynamic, that our protection is totally due to Hashem “carrying us on His eagle wings”, not because of our material power or advanced weaponry. גיד הנשה then is the eternal sign of the immortal uniqueness of Klal Yisroel, a nation that “lives with G-d”.
This idea is directly related to the “small jugs”. A person who recognizes that every second, one is in the presence of Hashem, that one is placed in this world as a unique agent of Hashem to fulfill a necessary mission, will live every second selflessly, relentlessly subservient to Hashem, recognizing that all that one is, all that is at one’s disposal is all only Hashem’s. It follows that if one possesses objects, it is Hashem’s objects that he has been entrusted with to actualize his mission. “I have to protect His world, for I am a contributor to His world; consequently, He will protect me if He still has a mission for me.” My definition, my importance, my validation is that I am totally a submissive agent for G-d’s glory. HaRav Chaim Friedlander זצ”ל explained that to acquire an object requires time. Time is life, for every moment is an opportunity to ‘live with Hashem’. If Yaakov Avinu would have to expend effort to replace the ‘jugs’, those precious moments of true life- serving Hashem- would be lost. The Jewish people only rely on Hashem; Esav exclusively on their weaponry.
The angel who fought with Yaakov is introduced as a person, “And the man struggled with him.” Why doesn’t the Torah tell us directly that he was an angel; after all, the physical confrontation with an angel, a being of metaphysical strength, is infinitely more formidable as compared to a human?
The answer Harav Nosson Wachtfogel zt”l gave is; the confrontation was a challenge to Yaakov; will your living existence be defined as one totally subservient to Hashem or one that you assimilate some of the ways of mankind. If you live in this world but transcend it and live in your “protected, walled ghetto from outside influences”, then you are Yisroel, otherwise you are not any different than Esav. Our eternal challenge is to maintain one’s recognition that our נשמה defines us, not our selfish desires.
We are all the children of Yisroel, we all have the capacity to transform our potential which is defined as the descendants of Yaakov to embracing a life of Yisroel, where we are “stamped” with the name of Hashem!
In today’s society more than ever, the outside influences and hatred are rampant, at the same time our cognizance of being enveloped by Hashem is the eternal gift we are fortunate to embrace to protect ourselves from outside influence and to gain his loving protection.