Yeshivat Har Bracha

Revivim, rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Gid Hanasheh – The Connection between Spirit and Action

The struggle between Jacob and Esau’s guardian angel was a struggle between a world of narrow interests, and a world where faith and perfection are the driving forces * The injury to the thigh, which connects the upper part of a person to the lower part, was an attempt to disconnect the ideals from the actions * Despite the injury, Jacob, in his steadfastness to overcome the detach, succeeded in his righteousness to return and retrieve the small bottles. Today, as well, it is appropriate for Talmidei Chachamim and men of action to respect one another, and work together

In this week’s Torah portion we will learn about the mitzvah not to eat the gid hanasheh (the displaced tendon, or sciatic nerve) which is on the socket of the thigh of animals and beasts (Bereishit 32:33). The meaning is the tendon on the socket of the right and left thigh. The gid hanasheh is the large tendon through which most of the nerves of the leg pass. It starts at the spinal cord, and ends at the end of the leg. The Torah forbade eating the part on the socket of the thigh, that is, the swollen meat that wraps around the thigh bone, which is shaped like the handle of a pot, i.e., a rounded shape that gradually rises in the middle. Our Sages further prohibited both the beginning of this tendon from the spine, and its continuation to the end of the calf. They also prohibited the tendrils of the gid hanasheh, in other words, its branches that spread into the flesh on the thigh, as well as the external tendon (S.A., Y.D. 65:8). Furthermore, the Jewish nation took it upon themselves to forbid eating the fat surrounding the sinew and tendrils (Peninei Halakha: Kashrut 21:4).

The Roots of the Prohibition Lie in the Debate with Esau’s Guardian Angel

When our forefather Jacob returned to the Land of Israel and moved his family across the Jordan River, he returned at night to collect the last of his movables, and there, a man fought him. When the man saw that he could not overcome Jacob, he struck the socket of his thigh; Jacob’s leg was dislocated, and he limped on his thigh. However, our forefather Jacob did not give in, overcame the man, and wrestled with him until dawn. It then turned out that the man was an angel, and only after he blessed Jacob, did Jacob agree to release him (Bereishit 32). Our Sages said (Chullin 91a; Bereishit Rabbah 77:3) that the same angel was Esau’s guardian angel, and the dust of their struggle rose to the Kisse HaKavod (the Throne of Glory), because their struggle concerns the foundations of emunah (faith). Esau’s guardian angel requests that this earthly world behave routinely, according to its material interests, whereas Jacob seeks to perfect this world by means of emunah, values, and Torah. When Esau’s angel saw that he was unable to prevail against Jacob due to the strength of his faith, he struck the place of his weakness – the gid hanasheh.

The Gid Hanasheh Connects the Upper Part of the Body to the Legs

Through the gid hanasheh, the nervous system passes from the head and spine to the legs. Spiritually, it expresses the connection between the upper parts of a person – the head and the heart, the center of thoughts and feelings – to the legs, which express actions. The wound to the gid hanasheh expressed Esau’s claim: indeed, your talk about emunah is lofty and beautiful, and the values are ideal; however, their place is in heaven and not here in this earthly world, because this material world is driven by lust, money and honor. And even the righteous when they descend into this world plunge into iniquities, for indeed, the gid hanasheh passes close the place of one’s private parts. Thus, in passing from the head to the feet, one’s virtuous ideas are weakened (in Hebrew, the word nasheh stems from the word chulshah, or weakness), and lust defiles them. Whoever tries to claim he is righteous, like Jacob and the Jews, will only sin more, because instead of admitting the truth, he will take advantage of people and claim that his lusts and sins are for the sake of Heaven, and his pursuit of money and honor, for the sake of religion.

The Dangerous Disconnect between Men of Action and Men of Spirit

This is what our Sages said in the Zohar (Volume 1: 191:1), that with this blow, Esau’s heavenly representative drove a wedge between men of spirit and men of action, that is, men of spirit fail to appreciate men of action engaged in yishuvo shel olam (settlement of the world), and conversely – men of action are weakened, and forget their partnership in keeping the Torah, and fail to uphold Torah scholars. Consequently, the men of spirit lack a basis on which to stand and fall, the Shekinah (Divine Presence) departs from the world, the Holy Temple is destroyed, Israel is exiled from their land, and the wicked subjugate both the men of spirit and action, and plunder their labor.

This is the meaning of the words of our Sages in the chapter of Gid Hanesheh (Chullin 92a), that it is essential for Talmidei Chachamim to pray for the amei ha-aretz (figuratively, Torah-ignorant people), for without connection to them Talmidei Chachamim are unable to survive, and both of them alike, fail to counter their enemies. This is the basis of the mitzvot of terumot and ma’asrot (tithes), by means of which Israel connects with the Kohanim and Levites who guard the holy vigil, and teach Torah to Israel. As a follow-up to this, our Sages enacted that from other types of income as well, Jews should set aside a tithe for the maintenance of Torah students and teachers, and by means of this, men of action would be connected to the holy values, and Torah scholars would teach Torah to the Jewish nation.

The Blow to the Righteous and the Prophets

Our Sages also said (Bereishit Rabbah 77:3) that the blow to the gid hanasheh wounded “the righteous men and women, the prophets and prophetesses, which were to arise from him (Jacob) in the future”. And the Zohar (Volume 1, 171:1) explains that Esau’s guardian angel wounded all the prophets except Moshe Rabbeinu, that as a result of the blow to the gid hanasheh, the prophets were unable receive their prophecy while standing, but rather, while falling down. This is because without the men of action being connected to the righteous and the prophets, the righteous cannot fulfill their ideas in reality, and the prophets cannot express the ideas of their prophecy in a steady and precise manner. In other words, the men of action support the men of spirit in all respects, both by supporting them with terumot, ma’asrot, and ma’aser kesafim (tenth of one’s income), and by devoting themselves to the fulfillment of spiritual ideas in the world of action. Only by doing so are the righteous, the prophets and prophetesses, able to direct and refine their words.

Moshe Rabbeinu was the only one not harmed because he did not impair the gid hanasheh. He completely respected men of action to no end and knew how difficult it was for them to continue the word of God into their daily lives, but the ideal purpose of everything is for faith be revealed through them. That is the reason for his self-sacrifice for them when they sinned. He even drew close and converted the Erev Rav, because he knew how to perceive the enormous value inherent in them. As a result of this, he was able to receive the Torah in purity and without any blemish, because the Torah was given to all of Israel, and the stranger dwelling among them.

Destruction and Faith

As a result of the damage to the gid hanasheh, which expressed the detachment between men of spirit and men of action, the wicked were victorious and murdered the righteous and the rest of the Jewish people during the days of destruction and terror, when darkness covered the land. And yet, just as our forefather Jacob stood bravely against Esau’s guardian angel until the break of dawn and when the light began to shine, it became clear to the angel that our forefather Jacob would be able to overcome the obstacles, cross the ford of the Yabok, and build the House of Israel in the land and reveal the Shekinah in the world; Esau’s angel was consequently forced to acknowledge and bless him – in this way, Israel stood bravely and devotedly against all those that rose up to destroy them, until the light of their redemption shines, and against their will, all the accusers will bless them (Sefer Ha-Chinuch 3). Then the gid hanasheh which was dislocated, will return to its place, and the connection between men of intellect and good aspirations of the heart, to the men of action who fulfill all the lofty ideals in the world, will be completed.

The Merit of Our Forefather Jacob

Our forefather Jacob, despite the damage to his gid hanasheh, succeeded to prevail over Esau’s guardian angel, because despite all the difficulties and complications in the world of action, Jacob was connected with all his heart to the men of action, and even returned and crossed the Jordan to save some seemingly insignificant tiny bottles, which allude to the poshei Yisrael (sinners of Israel), because they are also important. He merited this because, in addition to being a man of spirit, he appreciated work, and fulfilled it faithfully.

For twenty years, during the freezing winter nights and the hot summer days, he continued looking after the flock and finding pasture and water for it, all this while making sure that not one lamb or goat was lost, and if they were lost, paid from his wages for them (Genesis 31:38-40). Our Sages said (Bereishit Rabbah 74:12): “Work is cherished more than zechut avot (ancestral merit), because the merit of his ancestors saved property, while the merit of Jacob’s dedicated work, saved his life. Zechut avot saved property, as written: ‘Had not the God of my father’s house —the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac—been with me, you would have sent me away empty-handed.’ But work, saved his life – ‘But it was my plight and the toil of my hands that God took notice of—and gave judgment on last night.’”

That is why Esau’s guardian angel could not prevail over Jacob, because in his life, he demonstrated the connection between Torah and action. But since the world is not yet perfected, the angel managed to injure him in gid hanasheh.

The Wrong Connection between Men of Spirit and Men of action

The mitzvah not to eat the gid hanasheh alludes to the fact that this gid should be intended for maintaining the connection between the world of spirit and the world of action, and anyone who consumes it, it is as if he consents with the deficiency caused by it being displaced, and thereby causing a certain separation between the world of spirit and the world of action.

Furthermore, the relationship between spiritual and action-oriented people should be pure, without personal interests. And just as the taste of the gid hanasheh is weak, because its entire purpose is to connect the spirit and the heart to the world of action, and when the connection between men of spirit and action is not pure, the impurity increases in both of them – that is to say, men of Torah flatter men of action in order to receive donations from them, and corrupt men of action maintain these men of Torah in order to cleanse their conscience, and be able to continue to steal and abuse – and both of them, excuse themselves that there is no choice, for those who wish to be financially successful in this world must be corrupt as Esau claimed – and in this manner, the light of the Torah is extinguished, as Rambam wrote (Hilchot Talmud Torah 3:10) about Talmidei Chachamim who use their Torah to make a living.

The Correction

The correction of this is for the relationship between men of spirit and men of action to be pure, full of respect and love of truth, in such a way that the Talmidei Chachamim will shower Torah and inspiration on the men of action in order to merit being partners in their sacred work of action for the sake of settlement of the world, and not to receive donations or honor from them. And men of action will believe that, indeed, it is possible to be righteous in this world, that it pays to do business honestly, and it is appropriate to work with faith and loyalty for the glory of the Torah, the People and the Land. Consequently, the wicked will be unable to take control of their labor, and both men of spirit and action together will add good and blessing to the world, and the entire House of Israel and all the nations of the world will rejoice in all the good that God has given to every living being.

It is not easy, but the holy nation of Israel believes it is possible.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated

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