I was asked to write a dvar Torah for my shul this week, so I thought I would share it
Yaakov is very busy in this week’s parsha. Going from place to place, he is always on the move. And when he finally tries to get a good night’s rest, he gets attacked. The Pasuk of 32:24 says Yaakov brought everything that was his across a stream. The gemera in Chulin 91a says he went back to get some small pitchers and was all alone.
The fight between Yaakov and this angelis full of symbolism, but going after the small pitchers really sets the stage. Two major things happen in this fight. The first is Yaakov’s thigh is dislocated. The second is he gets the bracha of being called Israel. Rav Hirsch talks about both of them in a manner that I think is truly fascinating.
In grabbing Yaakov’s thigh, the angel tries to lift Yaakov off the ground. To control him, to take away his ability to move on Earth. This angel is trying to disconnect Yaakov from the material things he has. For without motion, there is only so much we can exert control over. To take care of a problem somewhere else, to acquire an object in another location, to look for the small pitchers, we need to actually get there.
In forcing the angel to stay and give him a bracha, Yaakov is getting towards a deeper truth. That the Jewish people will prevail during the darkness of night, and always emerge into the light. Israel comes from a root word of greatness. That Hashem’s people will be above the attacks of others, that we cannot and will not be overpowered. When other people refuse to recognize the existence of others, Yaakov will force that recognition. That is the bracha he is getting.
And at the end of this fight, we are told in memory of this victory, we cannot eat the Gid heNaseh, the sciatic nerve. It doesn’t really make sense, we won, so we lose a tasty cut of meat? Rav Hirsch points this out “the prohibition is surely not intended to inform Yaakov’s descendants of the historical fact their their forefather limped as a result of a wrestling match”. Not eating the nerve is to remind us that we don’t need material power on Earth. Of course Yaakov can win a battle at the head of a small army described earlier in this Parsha. But Yaakov also won a battle when he could not control his own movement, when he holds on to his faith through the night. We do not need the small pitchers to succeed. We do not need to have material wealth, or military might to succeed.
“If Yaakov falls, he falls not because of his limited physical power, but because he fails to cultivate Hashem’s protection. Conversely, if Yisrael stands firm, it is not because of his physical and material strength, but because God bears him aloft on the eagles’ wings of His almighty power”.
This is the result of all of the above. That even disconnected from the ground, we are still Am Yisrael. The result of this fight is that we are a nation, we are Hashem’s people, and we shall not forget that.