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Do-or-Die Details

Friday, 23 November, 2018 - 1:07 am

It could be an eyelash. It might be a dirty fingernail. Leave it to a mother to find something to need rectifying. There’s always a strand of hair that needs to be moved just a tad over.

To a mother, even a small imperfection is a glaring problem. Every detail is a life-and-death decision.


In the Parsha Vayishlach, Yaakov is traveling with his family from Charan back to the Holy Land. The Torah tells us that, “And Yaakov was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When he saw that he could not prevail against him, he touched the socket of his hip, and the socket of Yaakov’s hip became dislocated as he wrestled with him.”

According to the Talmud, Yaakov was alone (away from his family) because he had forgotten small bottles and returned for them. Upon his return he wrestled with a stranger and was injured. As a result, the Torah tells us, “Therefore, the children of Israel may not eat the displaced tendon, which is on the socket of the hip, until this day, for he touched the socket of Jacob's hip, in the hip sinew.”

This is one of the ‘quirky’ laws of kosher and one of the reasons you are unlikely to find a sirloin steak at your kosher butcher. The sciatic nerve of a kosher animal is not kosher. It’s ubiquitous in the hindquarters and difficult to remove. Kosher butchers generally treat the entire area as treif.


Both the story and the result seem strange.

Why does the Torah tell us that ridiculously wealthy Yaakov was alone – due to forgotten jugs – and wrestled, suffering an injury? It seems petty. And, why is a mitzvah of the Torah based on this injury? It seems like a very minor detail of Yaakov’s journey back home. The fact that he was saved from annihilation by Eisav is not part of our kosher laws, but this seemingly insignificant encounter leads to a new mitzvah in the Torah! Shouldn’t we rather commemorate the survival of Yaakov from his venomous brother? What’s going on?


The Baal Shem Tov taught that every aspect of this world – aside from the moral choices we make – is governed by Divine Providence. If it’s important enough for G-d to focus on – it’s important enough for us to focus on!

By Yaakov focusing on small jugs, he demonstrated that nothing was outside of his mission in life, nothing was too insignificant. G-d responded in kind, expressing that every detail in Yaakov’s life was important.

It may seem like a technicality in the laws of kosher – but that’s exactly the point! Every detail in life – is an opportunity to serve G-d.

The survival of the Jewish people – the Torah is conveying – does not only depend on escaping the battlefields of anti-Semitism and cultural assimilation. Rather, it depends on our attention to the minutiae of kosher and cherishing every moment of potential holiness.


Now, that’s an attitude only a Mother has for Her child.

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