Lazer Gurkow
Lazer Gurkow

Geed Hanasheh—The Sciatic Nerve

Geed hanasheh is the sciatic nerve, a sinew in the hip that Jews are forbidden to eat. Many know that kosher meat must be slaughtered and salted. Not many know about neekur, the intricate process that entails the removal of the animal’s forbidden parts, including the geed hanasheh. In fact, because this sinew is difficult to remove, kosher butchers often forgo the entire hindquarter, which is why it is so difficult to find Kosher filet mignon or sirloin steak

There is a story behind this prohibition, one you probably know because it is documented in the most popular book in all of history—the Torah.

Jacob was preparing to meet his brother Esau for the first time in twenty-two years. Twenty-two years earlier, Esau had been furious with Jacob and wanted to kill him. Now, Jacob was committed to making peace with his brother, but first, he had to contend with Esau’s angel.

We each have a personal angel in heaven that looks after our interests. Esau might have been open to his brother’s overtures, but Esau’s angel wanted none of it. The night before the brothers met, Esau’s angel accosted Jacob. Jacob discerned the angel’s purpose and fought back. But the angel struck Jacob’s hip and injured his geed hanasheh, a sinew in his hip.

Aaah, the penny dropped; you made the connection. The Torah instructs us, Jacob’s descendants, to memorialize this event by never eating the geed hanasheh. Even if the animal is kosher, and was slaughtered and salted properly, the geed hanasheh should not be eaten.

But Why?
So, now you know the story (if you didn’t know it before), but the story raises more questions than it answers. The questions can be summed up in one word, WHY?

Why did the angel strike Jacob in the geed hanasheh? Why is it important for us to remember the story? Why must we remember it in this way, don’t we have enough prohibitions without adding this one to the mix?

These questions are all based on the axiom that everything in the Torah is precise and has a reason. The geed hanasheh wasn’t struck by happenstance. The angel struck it deliberately because he wanted to dominate it. And since he controls it, we won’t eat it.

What does this all mean?

Life, Space, And Time
The Kabbalists gave us our first insight into this conundrum by comparing eating on tishah be’av (the 9th of Av) to partaking of the geed hanasheh. Jews fast on tishah be’av to commemorate the day that both our ancient temples were destroyed. But what is the connection between tishah be’av and the geed hanasheh?

Our second insight comes from the kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordoveo’s famous commentary to Sefer Yetzirah—the book of formation—attributed to our patriarch Abraham. He wrote that G-d created the world with three elements, life, space, and time, and though they are each unique they share a basic structure.

As there are 365 sinews in the human body (the life element of creation), so are there 365 elements in space and in time. How to find them in space is beyond this essay, but to find them in time is not very difficult—there are 365 days in the solar calendar year.

Kabbalah teaches that tishah be’av is the day in the year that corresponds to the geed hanasheh sinew in the body. By striking Jacob’s geed hanasheh, Esau’s angel struck a dual blow: he injured the sinew in Jaco’s hip and wrested control of tishah be’av from Jacob’s children.

The Angel’s Aim
Esau’s angel sought to prevent Jacob’s meeting with Esau because he knew that if Esau made peace with Jacob and consented to Jacob’s blessings, it would spell disaster for Esau’s future. For the rest of history, Jacob’s descendants would have the upper hand. This why the angel sought to prevent their meeting.

However, Jacob acquitted himself well in the struggle and the angel saw that he could not prevent the meeting. He then struck Jacob in the hip socket, aiming his blow at the geed hanasheh. This was the angel’s last gasp effort to ensure that Esau would prevail over Jacob at least one day of the year—Tishah be’av, the day that corresponds to the geed hanasheh.

Our sages linked Rome to Esau, and Esau’s angel wanted to ensure that Rome would succeed on tishah be’av when they would destroy the Temple and exile the Jews. This, the angel achieved.

Had the angel failed, the Temple would not have been destroyed and the Jews would not have been exiled. Alas, that did not happen. In the end, G-d wanted the Jews dispersed across the world, and for good reason. Only this way would we be able to channel holiness into every part of the world through the Torah that we study and the Mitzvos that we practice. Had we remained in Israel, there would only be one holy place in the world. Now we can sanctify the entire world, which sets the stage for the coming of Mashiach.

The Real Reason
This is the real reason for not eating the geed hanasheh. Once Esau’s angel took control of the geed hanasheh, eating it would strengthen Esau’s angel, which in turn, would strengthen the fortune of our enemies.

The is also the reason for fasting on tishah be’av. Yes, the prophets instructed us to fast because the Temple was destroyed on this day, but it goes much deeper. Once Esau’s angel took control of tishah be’av, eating on this day would strengthen Esau’s angel, which in turn, would strengthen the fortune of our enemies. This is why eating on tishah beav is like partaking of the geed hanasheh.

By refraining from eating the geed hanasheh and from eating on tishah be’av, we weaken the influence of Esau’s angel and hasten the rebuilding of our Temple with the coming of Mashiach, speedily in our days, Amen.

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at www.innerstream.org
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