Doing Without Power1
Therefore the Bnei Yisrael are not to eat the displaced sinew of the
hip-socket to this day, because he struck Yaakov’s hip-socket on the
Bereishis introduces four institutions of remembrance: Shabbos, the rainbow,
milah, and the gid hanasheh of our pasuk. Curiously, they form a perfectly
matched set. Half declare Man’s moral calling; half speak of history. Two
are relevant to all of mankind; two are a Jewish exclusive.
Shabbos is observed only by Jews. Its message, however, is entirely relevant
to non-Jews, whose moral calling will remain obscured unless they can
internalize the central idea of Shabbos, of Hashem as the Creator of all
things. When man understands himself to be a product of a Designer, he can
then try to understand what design there might be for the universe. He goes
on from there to discover the role of mankind, and eventually what demands
that design has on him personally. The rainbow reminds all of mankind of the
destructiveness of sin, of the events that took place when society corrupted
itself beyond the possibility of redemption.
The remaining pair match the first two. Milah is to Jews what Shabbos is to
mankind. Milah reminds Jews of their special calling to establish a holy
community, and the need for self-limitation and restraint without which this
goal is unattainable. The prohibition of Jews eating the gid hanasheh
insures that we Jews do not forget an important historical event, and
parallels the more universal lesson of the rainbow appearing in the sky.
Just why is the episode of Yaakov’s wrestling match, and his subsequent
injury (which healed quite nicely on its own a short while later) so worthy
of remembrance? We do not ban chametz and insist on eating matzah once a
year merely to remind ourselves of the dietary habits of our ancestors. Our
interest is not remembering for its own sake. The historical mitzvos are
meant to teach us something. Surely our key objective in the mitzvos of
Pesach is to internalize sublime lessons about our relationship to Hashem,
and the nature of His Providence. The ban on eating gid hanasheh must allude
to some momentous truth as well.
When Yaakov walks – or rather limps – away from his encounter with Esav’s
angel, he is deficient, but only temporarily. His leg is whole, his muscles
are intact, the tendon is there. Yet, they do not function well together as
they should. Yaakov has assumed the role of a nosheh (formed of the same
there Hebrew letters, נשה), a creditor, who seems to lose money by lending
it to another. In truth, however, the creditor has not lost anything at all.
What he gave, he gave willingly. In place of what he gave now stands an
obligation, which one day will be collected. Yaakov has lost something of
his physical strength and power, but he will lay claim to something greater
through that loss.
Through the long night of Yaakov’s struggle with Esav’s angel, Yaakov
remains unvanquished. He is not even thrown to the ground, limp and
paralyzed with helplessness. Yaakov is slowed by his injury, which does not
allow him to even stand firmly on two feet, let alone move without
restriction. Yaakov did not come to his encounter with his brother exuding
strength and vigor. Esav arrived at the head of a small army of four hundred
men loyal to him; Yaakov could not even marshal the forces of his own body
to present himself as an image of strength and vigor.
So it would be during the long night of our exile. We would not be beaten
down, but we would not be allowed to move about easily or unmolested. We
would survive, but we would lack standing in the community of nations. We
would move with small, uneasy steps, rather than a brisk, confident stride.
It may seem to be undesirable to arrive at a long-anticipated encounter with
a physical disability, but it actually helped Esav understand something
about the brother who stood before him. Yaakov would become identified with
Divine assistance precisely because he could not compete with others with
his own resources. Yaakov would not be defeated, but the source of his
strength was not within him, but in his relationship with Hashem. Esav
understood on some level that Yaakov was not the master and source of his
good fortune and his very survival. Something higher stood behind him.
Jews throughout history would take notice of their material weakness, and
accept it with pride, rather than bemoan their plight. Sitting down to eat,
they did without the gid hanasheh, i.e. they willingly renounced the
strength they might have had, realizing that in giving it up, they gave up
nothing of value. Their strength would come from their connection to G-d. If
they kept it strong and vital, they would be buoyed up by Him. When they
stumbled, it was not because they lacked strength, but because they lacked
They would understand that the very weakness that others found contemptible
was a vehicle to ultimately help them understand their Protector, and thus
fulfill their mission in history.
Why Esav Kissed Yaakov2
And Esav ran towards him and embraced him, and fell upon his neck and
kissed him and they wept.
The weeping changes everything that we might think of Esav. He could have
feigned the kiss and the embrace, but the tears flowed from his soul. At
this moment, he showed himself to be a descendant of Avraham, and showed the
secret of his eventual success. The Esav we see here was something more than
a cunning hunter. There was a strength of character that was available to
him. He may have used it infrequently, but it did not disappear. It would
display itself throughout Esav’s travels through history.
Through military prowess and skill, through force and might alone he would
not become a master of the entire world. Rome was strong and brutal – but
there was more to her than strength and brutality. There had to be. Rome
could not have dominated the known world through force alone. Other gifts
Those gifts were not directed to noble or proper use, but this could change.
Our episode points to that capacity. Esav was able to set down his sword,
and relate to his brother with love and compassion. For the strong to
respect the rights of other people of strength demonstrates nothing more
than prudence and practicality. It is simply wise to avoid the consequences
of a struggle. The strong can nurture qualities of humanness and respect for
the rights of others. When that happens, they will abandon the use of raw
might even when dealing with the weak. Esav’s casting down his sword and
throwing himself on the neck of his brother shows his capacity to grow in
It will take a Yaakov and his relationship with him to draw out that
capacity, and allow it to slowly grow and progress.
 Based on the Hirsch Chumash, Bereishis 32:33
 Based on the Hirsch Chumash, Bereishis 33:4