Kenneth Brander
President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Ohr Torah Stone

Moving Forward – Even When It Hurts (Parshat Vayishlach)


Jacob wrestles with an angel. The Torah calls this person, this being, an ”ish” (man) (Genesis 32:25).

We’re not exactly sure if it is an angel. In fact, there are different approaches to this, which we discussed two years ago. I invite you to view it here.

But after Jacob is triumphant from this engagement, from this conflict, we’re told that his name is changed from Ya’akov to Yisrael, the Prince of God (Genesis 32:29), and we’re told that it is forbidden for us to eat from the sciatic nerve (Genesis 32:33).

This nerve, the sciatic nerve, represents the movement. It helps our movement forward and backward. It is the nerve from our hip to our knee.

And the message behind this prohibition, as stated by the Netziv, is the following: sometimes when we’re in a conflict, whether it’s with ourselves, in trying to improve ourselves, or with our family in trying to make a difference, or in the Jewish community or in society, sometimes the easiest thing – not the best thing, but the easiest thing – is just to stay stationary, is just not to engage, just to stay frozen in time.

The message of the prohibition of the sciatic nerve, the nerve that speaks about the movement forward, is the recognition of the fact that to make a difference, we have to be willing to engage.

When there is a struggle within ourselves, we have to be willing to make a difference in our lives.

When there is a struggle in our family and we can make a difference, we have to have the courage to do so.

And if we are going to be Yisrael, the Children of Israel, princes of God, we have to be willing to take a stand to help another Jew, to speak out when Jews are attacked, and to make sure that we can make a difference in humanity.

The prohibition of the sciatic nerve is a reminder that the responsibility of a Jew is always to move forward, never to be paralyzed by the situation.

Shabbat Shalom.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, an Israel-based network of 32 educational and social action programs transforming Jewish life, living and leadership in Israel and across the world. He is the rabbi emeritus of the Boca Raton Synagogue and founder of the Katz Yeshiva High School. He served as the Vice President for University and Community Life at Yeshiva University and has authored many articles in scholarly journals.
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