The sun rose for him [Yaakov] when he passed over Penuel, and he was
limping on his thigh. Therefore, the children of Israel do not eat the
sciatic sinew which is on the thigh until this day, for [the angel]
touched the hollow of Yaakov’s thigh on the sciatic sinew. (Bereishis
The first mitzvah the Chafetz Chaim lists is not to eat the part of an
animal called the gid hanasheh. This is based on the pasuk in Bereishis,
which explains how we do not eat the sciatic sinew of an animal because
Yaakov Avinu was hurt in his struggle with the angel.
The commentators explain many lessons that are inherent in this mitzvah:
1. To remind us that we must always maintain our guard against the evil
inclination, whom the angel that Yaakov battled symbolized. We need
to continue to fight without weakness or discouragement
(Rav Miller, The Beginning, p. 499).
2. To remind us that when we do our best, Hashem will help us overcome our
enemies, as He helped Yaakov Avinu in his battle against the angel (Sefer
HaChinuch, mitzvah 3).
3. It is a reminder to thank Hashem for helping Yaakov Avinu and for
continuing to help us (Da’as Zekeinim, Bereishis 32:33).
4. To remind us that Yaakov’s children should not have let their father go
alone to retrieve the small jars, since this resulted in him being
vulnerable to the angel’s attack. Had they gone to escort him, the injury
would never have occurred (ibid.).
It is interesting to note that the Sefer HaChinuch, which chronicles all
the mitzvos of the Torah in the order they were given, lists only three
mitzvos from Sefer Bereishis: procreation, bris milah, and not eating the
gid hanasheh. Thus, this is the first prohibition of the Torah given to the
Jewish people, and the only one in Sefer Bereishis. The three mitzvos of
Bereishis have been explained to parallel the three avos. Procreation
parallels Avraham, the pillar of chesed, since it is a mitzvah similar to
hachnasas orchim, bringing guests into Hashem’s world and caring for them.
Bris milah parallels Yitzchak, the pillar of avodah, since bris milah is a
symbol on our body that we are ready to serve Hashem. Yitzchak was also
the first child in history to have his bris on the eighth day of his life.
Gid hanasheh parallels Yaakov, whose middah was emes, or Torah, since the
gid hanasheh is in the thigh, which is a support of the body,
corresponding to Torah, which is one of the pillars that support the
universe. The sefarim cite a fascinating Zohar based on the Talmud (Makkos
23b) which explains that the 365 prohibitions of the Torah correspond to
the 365 days of the year. Each day reminds us to obey one of the 365
prohibitions of the Torah. The Zohar adds that Tishah B’Av is the day
which corresponds to the gid hanasheh. The two Batei Mikdash were
destroyed on this day, which corresponds to a slight weakness in our great
ancestor, the third of our founding fathers. We fast and refrain from food
on this day, until the Beis HaMikdash will be rebuilt, may it happen
speedily in our day.