Not Through Strength, but Through My Spirit
By: Rav Mordechai Greenberg
(Translated by Rav Meir Orlian)
In the struggle between Yaakov and the stranger, identified by Chazal as the guardian angel of Esav, Yaakov's hip joint became dislocated. The Torah concludes the episode with the prohibition, "Therefore, Bnei Yisrael are not to eat the 'gid hanashe' (sciatic nerve)." (Bereishit 32:33) What is the symbolism of this prohibition, and what is its connection to this episode?
The nightlong struggle between Yaakov and the angel of Esav is a microcosm of the struggle between Israel and the nations of the world. The nations' attempt to bring about our downfall did not -- and will not -- succeed, as G-d promised Avraham after the trial of the akeidah, "Your offspring shall inherit the gate of its enemies." (Bereishit 22:17) However, their efforts did take their toll; they succeeded in weakening the material and physical aspects of national strength.
The "gid hanashe" sinew connects the body to the leg, and an injury to it weakens a person's ability to stand. Although Yaakov emerged victorious from his struggle with Esav's angel, he walked away limping, symbolizing his weakened foothold in the physical realm. However, Israel's spiritual vitality is what upholds and sustains it, despite its physical weakness. R. Yehuda Halevi stresses this idea in his work, The Kuzari (2:32):
The circumstances of the nations change based on their being many or few, strong or weak ... We, however -- when our heart, the Temple, was harmed -- became sick. And when it will be healed, we will be healed as well, whether we are many or few, regardless of our condition at that time. The prohibition, "Therefore, Bnei Yisrael are not to eat the 'gid hanashe,'" is to emphasize their lack of dependence on physical strength. Israel does not fall because of its physical weakness, nor does its physical strength sustain it! The approaching holiday of Chanukah clearly illustrates the principle that the basis of our endurance is through our spirit, not our might. This is why the few were able to defeat the many, and the weak overcome the strong.
This idea is also clearly expressed in the haftorah of Shabbat Chanukah, which contains the vision of the menorah in the book of Zechariah (4:2-6):
I see and behold -- there is a menorah [made entirely] of gold, with its bowl on its top ... There are two olive trees over it ... The angel who was speaking to me answered, and said to me, "Do you not know what these are?" And I said, "No, my lord." He spoke up and said to me ... "Not through army and not through strength, but through My spirit, said Hashem, Master of Legions." The miracle of the jug of pure oil on Chanukah was not at all essential, since the prohibition against performing the Temple service in a state of "tum'ah" (defilement) is waived when the majority of the community is "tameh" (defiled). It would have been acceptable to use oil that was "tameh," but the miracle was still performed in order to show G-d's love of Israel. One might ask, however, why was a similar miracle not performed regarding the menorah? (The menorah had also been defiled, and the Chashmonaim were forced to use a menorah constructed out of plain steel bars, rather than a golden one.)
Rav Kook, zt"l, answers in the following manner. The essence of the miracle of Chanukah was to demonstrate the distinctive nature of the "Ruach Hakodesh" (Divine Spirit) present in Israel, that it is what sustains spirituality, and not that spirituality sustains it. Therefore, the miracle was performed with the oil, which represents the pure and holy inner self, and has to be done with great "hidur" (splendor). The menorah, on the other hand, is the merely the material vessel which carries the spirit, and therefore we can suffice, in times of need, with less elegance.
"Some with chariots, and some with horses; but we, in the name of Hashem, our G-d, call out." (Tehillim 20:8) Although we also require horses and chariots, we know to call the name of G-d upon them, and this is the source of our strength!
Shiur ID: 3612