THOUGHT FOR PARSHAT VAYISHLACH 5779
BY RABBI CHAIM FACHLER
How many episodes involving one of our three forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yakov, culminate in a Mitzvah which affects our lives and behaviour to this very day? The answer is – just one. And it’s in this week’s Parsha.
Yakov is finally on his way home after spending 20 years with his uncle Lavan, and surviving that challenging period of his life. He is about to face-off with his twin brother and sworn enemy Esav. The phrase “out of the frying pan into the fire” comes to mind.
But the night before he meets Esav, Yakov encounters a “man” who turns out to be an angel, and they wrestle till dawn and beyond. The only way the angel can make a hasty retreat is by injuring Yakov on his hip socket - “Kaf Yarech” - which causes Yakov to limp. And because of this, we Jews are forbidden to eat the Gid Hanasheh – the main sinew in the hind quarter of an animal. What’s the connection?
The Netziv offers a deep insight into Yakov’s character. Yakov, explains the Netziv, was hitherto naturally passive and peace-loving. Violence was not in his DNA. Yakov coped well with Esav and Lavan through words persuasion, genius creativity, and not a little help from HaShem, but at no time did he show an aggressively violent side. In fact, when his sons Shimon and Levy act aggressively and violently against Shechem and his followers after their sister Dinah was defiled, Yakov expressed his disdain in no uncertain terms.
And yet, when a stranger attacks him by the river bed, but doesn’t actually endanger his life, Yakov not only defends himself, but by dawn he has taken the fight to his adversary, and he wrestles with him.
Says the Netziv: “When your enemy surrenders, and the immediate danger has passed, show compassion”. Instead, Yaakov turns the table and attacks the angel. Not much compassion there!
Yakov failed on two counts. He didn’t show compassion, and he was over-aggressive. To point this out to Yakov and all future generations, the angel injured his hip-socket. This immediately affected Yakov’s walk. Yakov had veered from his chosen “derech” (behaviour pattern) and as a result, began limping. And the sinew, being the very toughest of all an animal’s veins and arteries, was now forbidden to Jews – forever, to symbolise Yakov’s misplaced and uncharacteristic violent aggression. HaShem was having none of that. This is not the Torah way. Self defence – absolutely. Seeking revenge – no. Violent aggression for aggression’s sake – no.
To show how unacceptable this behaviour by His Chosen People is in the eyes of HaShem, we Jews are instructed never again to devour the strongest and most inflexible of all the human body parts.
Our enemies often take advantage of our DNA. Their senseless and murderous aggression tests us to the limit. But we will not succumb. We will not stoop to their animal-like activities and tactics. Our humanity will overcome, and our adherence to HaShem’s ways means we will retain our self-respect, even if the nations of the world continue to ignore this.