Apprehensive and pressured, Yaakov awaited for his inevitable confrontation with Eisav. The last thing Yaakov expected while waiting was to be ambushed by a mysterious assailant. Barely escaping the attack, Yaakov managed to emerge from the fight in one piece, though limping because of a damaged sciatic nerve. Based on this story, the Torah establishes the Issur (prohibition) of eating from the Gid HaNasheh, as the Pasuk states, “Al Kein Lo Yochlu Bnei Yisrael Et HaGid HaNasheh,” “Therefore, Bnei Yisrael don’t eat the sciatic nerve” (BeReishit 32:33). This story and following Mitzvah raises an obvious question: what is the significance of this prohibition; Yaakov injuring himself in a battle is hardly seems to be a compelling reason for an Issur!
From a superficial view, this prohibition seems to be just one of the plethora of Issurim placed on meat. The Halachot of Kashrut with regards to meat are vast and complex, including a specific way in which animals must be slaughtered, in a quick, painless, and fluid motion. From this Halachah of slaughtering, it is apparent that among the considerations taken for meat, the welfare of the animal must be considered. Bnei Yisrael have a moral obligation not to mistreat animals. This idea is apparent throughout Tanach and the Torah SheBeAl Peh, and the restriction of causing animals pain, Tza’ar Ba’alei Chaim, is the subject of many discussions in the Gemara.
According to Rashi, quoting Chazal (BeReishit 32:25 s.v. VaYeiaveik Ish), the man Yaakov fought was the guardian angel of Eisav. Eisav is depicted in Tanach as the consummate hunter, a man of violence, as illustrated by Yitzchak’s Bracha to him, which describes him as one who will live by the sword. The juxtaposition of this battle against the hunter to a prohibition of meat creates a vivid theme in this Parashah. The stark contrast between the ideals of Eisav and his descendants to those of Yaakov and Bnei Yisrael embody this section. By refusing to eat the Gid HaNasheh, Bnei Yisrael are refusing to abide by the corrupted morals of Edom and their aggressive focus, both the aggression “Eisav” demonstrated towards Yaakov during the fight, and the figurative aggressiveness found throughout the Halachot of Tza’ar Ba’alei Chaim.
With the approach of Chanukah, this ideal is incredibly relevant. The Syrian-Greeks invaded Eretz Yisrael, defiled the Beit HaMikdash, and tried to force the Bnei Yirael to convert to their faith, going as far as placing Avodah Zarah in the Beit HaMikdash. However, it was the refusal of the Maccabim to abide by the flawed ideals that led to freedom from Syrian-Greek oppression and the eventual rededication of the second Beit HaMikdash. The small, seemingly powerless group of Maccabim managed to overthrow the world’s most powerful empire, inspired by this ideological commitment. When we light our Chanukiyot, it is crucial to remember what the lights represent. When we see the meager flame persisting through the seemingly endless darkness, defeating it, vanquishing it, we must remember our commitment to our strong Jewish ideals, even in the face of seemingly endless opposition. These same ideals are stressed in Yaakov’s confrontation with the angel, and even further accentuated with the subsequent Mitzvah. These same ideals are at the core of Chanukah, and should be at the core of every member of Am Yisrael.
Recently, there was a terrible tragedy in Mumbai, India. Nearly two hundred people were murdered in cold blood, even more were injured, and among the targeted locations was a Chabad House. Terrorism wishes to break down our very fundamentals, just as the Syrian-Greeks did after Churban Bayit Rishon. Terrorism is the desire to strike fear into the hearts of others, and fear breads hatred. However, we must reject this hatred, and these flawed morals. We must look to Yaakov Avinu and his fight with Eisav’s Malach, to the Issur of Gid HaNasheh and what it represents, and, most of all, we must look to the brilliant flames of the Chanukiyah, vanquishing the darkness, and persisting through the all encompassing abyss, the flame never compromising. Bnei Yisrael are referred to as an “Or LaGoyim,” a light to the nations, and in a time such as this, we must shine brilliantly like the Chanukah candles, and show the world we can still persist. We as a people persist through terrorism, and war, through hatred and bigotry, and BeEzrat Hashem will forever persist.