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This week we’re watching Jacob wrestle the angel and win! What comes next is a law against eating the sinew on a leg? We’re talking about how the two are connected.

In this week’s parsha, VaYishlach, we read about an encounter between Jacob and an angel who wrestles him and ultimately hurts him in the leg. At the end of the struggle, Jacob overcomes this being, and the angel begs to be released. Jacob says he wants a blessing first. The angel gives him the name Yisrael which means, “you overcame,” since he has proven that he can overcome/vanquish both humans and other-worldly beings. Later, as we know, God confirms this name and tells Jacob that He will be referred to as Yisrael (i.e. Israel) from now on.

After this story, the Torah tells us “and that’s why Bnei Yisrael, children of Jacob, (i.e. the Jewish People) don’t eat the sinew from the thigh, since that’s where Jacob’s injury occurred.”

Some commentators believe that this command was given later at Mt. Sinai and the Torah is mentioning it here, because this is the story behind the law. But some commentators believe that at this point in history, Jacob’s own children, after this event, stopped eating that part of any animal. And forever after, Jews didn’t eat that part of any meat. Then, later, G-d “put it in the Torah as a command” as a way to show His affirmation of this practice.

What’s the connection between Jacob’s injury and this prohibition? How would it make sense that since Jacob was injured there that’s why we don’t eat it? What’s the cause and effect here? How is this command a good/logical follow-up?

Discuss and then read these answers by various commentators and see if you said any of these:

  • In order to celebrate the fact that Jacob didn’t die from this struggle, but rather merely sustained an injury, we refrain from eating that part of the leg. In this way, we honor his bravery and victory.
  • This was a way for the family (our nation) to remember this story. Each time we remove this part of an animal, we will remember why and talk about this incredible night where Jacob wrestled an angel.
  • By not eating it, we are showing that we don’t even like this part and it’s not important to us. This will then serve to downplay the whole attack and injury. It is as if we are saying – “we don’t like that part anyway. You hurt our father in a place that’s not even so important and necessary.”
  • This prohibition is meant to punish the family. Since they left their father alone, and thus left him to meet this angel and struggle all by himself, they are not allowed to enjoy this part of the animal. That way, they will always remember how they were neglectful in honoring their father.

Which idea do you like best? Why?