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Vayishlach 5772

By: Rav Ari Shames

The Meaning in Everything We do Not Do - Rav Ari Shames At the conclusion of the early morning battle between Yaakov and the angel, Yaakov is injured. The Torah tells us that as a result of the injury his descendants do not eat the Gid Hanashe "until this very day". A survey of the classic commentaries on the page reveals a range of opinions as to the logic of the statement. How does the prohibition stem from the incident? The Chizkuni offers three different interpretations and the Sforno adds one more: Punishment - The prohibition is meant to remind the children of Yaakov that they were guilty of abandoning their father that night. We read that after he assisted all of the entourage to cross the river he himself remained on the other bank which lead to the attack by the angel. Had they remained with him, no harm wold have befallen him and as a punishment they are prohibited from eating the Gid Hanashe. (I find the Chizkunis assumption, that the children would have been effective in this case, interesting for two reasons. Firstly, it is not clear to me how one protects oneself against an angel, and in addition, our reading of the start of this week's parsha seems to paint a picture of a father schlepping four wives and eleven young kids. This can be seen by his excuse to Esav that the kids can simply not keep up. On the other hand, just a few pessukim later we find that two of his sons wiped out a full city, indicating that indeed it would have been better to have them as chaperones that dark night. Celebration - The limitation of the Gid Hanashe is meant to remind us of that fateful night and Yaakov's heroic stand. The angel had attempted to finish him off and Yaakov "walked" away with a mere injury. Therapeutic - The refusal to eat the Gid Hanashe was adopted as a method to effect a sort of cure. He writes that if one suffers from a given organ one may accept upon themselves not to have anything to do with the parallel one in an animal (I must admit that after much thought I do not fully understand what the idea is). Minimization - The Sforno writes that the prohibition of eating the Gid Hanashe is meant to marginalize the implications of the injury. Yaakov was not injured in any critical organ but rather he suffered a blow to an "expendable" and unimportant part of the body. This of course leads us into a much more fundamental discussion relating to taamei hamitzvot - the rationale of the mitzvot. While some choose to claim that there are no reasons for the particular rules and regulations, others (I believe the majority) feel that each of Gods commandments was designed to meet a specific need and/or teach us a particular lesson. This debate is relevant for most mitzvot, however it really seems to be a moot point in this case where the Torah specifically explains the rationale involved. In this instance it seems that it is formulated in the opposite direction of most cases. Usually we find the act mandated clearly and we are then left guessing as to the intent behind the instruction. In this case we are presented with the story and the ensuing practice of Bnei Yisrael not to eat the Gid Hanashe with a clear linkage between them. (See the comments of the Radak who writes that the initiative was actually from Yaakovs sons and then passed down and only later adopted by God and mandated as an official mitzvah at Har Sinai. The Gemara Chulin 90b discusses implications of this idea. According to one opinion Gid Hanashe applies to kosher animals as well as non-kosher ones seeing as though at the time of the adoption of the prohibition there was no limitation on consuming non-kosher animals. In addition, Rav Kasher quotes a source in his Torah Shleima that one actually fulfills the mitzvah of honoring ones father by not eating the Gid Hanashe!!) Regardless of whichever formulation we choose, I think we can note a common theme throughout. A Jew lives a meaningful life. We do not simply have arbitrary mitzvot. Each and every one of them is meant to represent a principle and idea. When we refrain from eating the Gid Hanashe we connect with a story thousands of years old and become active participants in the unbroken chain with our forefathers. If we focus on the past by feeling a painful reminder of abandoning our responsibilities, or by celebrating the close call that endangered Yaakov, or we are striving to improve things for the future by marking the injury or aiming to reduce its potency - in any of these cases we are connecting with our past and charting the way to our future. I think that this may lend a new meaning of the famous statement Maaseh Avot siman lebanim the deeds of the fathers are a sign for the children. This is generally assumed to be a one way venture - the stories concerning our forefathers form the forecast for our future. Each and every detail of Sefer Braishit is analyzed to form a detailed road map of what Am Yisrael will be up against throughout history (see the comments of the Ramban throughout Breishit). On a deeper level I think it can be understood in the opposite direction as well - that which the children do will reflect upon the actions of the fathers. I would like to add one more point that makes this even more challenging. In general, the idea of symbolism is much more obvious when we talk about positive commandments. Much of our ritual observances revolve around reliving and reenacting event of the past. Each and every year at the Pesech seder we connect with that very special evening at the moment for the exodus. This is a much more difficult task when we refrain from doing this or that. Just think about it - when is the last time that you even thought about the prohibition of Gid Hanashe? It simply is not on the menu and therefore not on our minds. Maybe the message is just that - we need to make the effort to find the meaning in everything that we do and in everything that we do not do as well.

 

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