Vayishlach: Gid Hanasheh In Light of Yaakov Avinu's Proclivity Toward Togetherness
The general approach - presented in Sforno, Ramban, Rashbam - to the prohibition of gid hanesheh is that it is a way to recall the miraculous way in which Yaakov was saved by G-d and emerged victorious in his wrestling match with the angel of Eisav (the mysterious man he meets in a rare moment of solitude). You would expect that this happy event would be remembered through a celebratory meal of Thanksgiving rather than with a punitive prohibition against eating. The Chizkuni says that what we are commemorating here is the sad fact that Yaakov was alone, separated from his eleven children. The lesson is that we should recall that a Jew should never be left alone.
A pivotal word regarding Yaakov is the word ach - brother. When he encounters some roughians by a well, he addresses them as achai – my brothers. Later, he repeatedly refers to Eisav as achi. At the end of the parsha we’re told that he views his sons as echav. Then they sit for a meal and included in the gathered achim are the soldiers of Eisav who had been sent to kill him. The root word comprised of the letters aleph and chet means to bind. The halachah is that at some point after tearing his garment a mourner is permitted to be me’acheh, to mend his garment, to bind it together.
Yaakov had a strong inclination and ability toward connecting with people. In life we should always strive to make others our ach. The root for the word acher - other – is ach. The root for the word Echad – one – is also ach. We do the best we can to relate to others, sometimes we remain more separate, sometimes more attached, but try we must.
The gid hanasheh commemorates the sad fact that Yaakov was not seen by his sons as an ach, and at that moment they erred by leaving him alone. Apparently they had not internalized their father’s model of striving for achdut. Perhaps Shimon and Levi do teshuvah in this area when they defend Dinah and this is why they are referred to as achei Dinah.(It seems that they take the idea to an extreme that causes Yaakov to disagree with their extreme actions in the name of achdut. This will not be explored further in this presentation, although it is deserving of consideration.)
(This is an adapdation of a talk given by Rav Dovid Miller.)