Limping Away from Tragedy – A Vort for Vayishlach and in Memory of Ezra Schwartz HY”D

The struggle of Yaakov and Eisav is one of the most epic struggles in Jewish history.  It is a war that has raged since the fathers of both nations came into the world.  Vayishlach tells us of the most famous battle in this eternal struggle.  As Yaakov is left alone in the middle of the night, he meets up with an angel that is Eisav’s divine representative.  A physical battle ensues between him and Yaakov.  The Torah tells us that during the battle something incredible happens, Vayar ki lo  yachol lo vayiga b’chaf yireicho, vateika kaf yerech Yaakov b’heiavko imo, The malach saw that he could not defeat Yaakov so he struck the joint of his thigh and it became dislocated.  The Torah goes on to tell us that in spite of his injury he continued fighting and won.  A victorious Yaakov came out of the battle limping after defeating his arch-nemisis.  However, it is the concluding pasuk in the section that seems so very strange, Al kein lo yochlu bnei yisrael es gid hanashe asher al kaf hayerech ad hayom hazeh ki naga bichaf yerech Yaakov b’gid hanashe.  The torah tells us that we do not eat the gid hanashe, the displaced sinew of the thigh, until this very day as remembrance to the injury Yaakov sustained from the angel.

However, this is extremely strange.  Why would we want to have an eternal remembrance for such a thing?  Why would we want to always remember the injured thigh of our forefather Yaakov within every cow or livestock that we eat?  Isn’t an injury a sad and depressing thing to remember? This question was raised by the Sheim Mishmuel, the famed Rebbe of Sochotshov, Rav shmuel Borenstein.  Said the Sheim Mishmuel it is by no means the injury that the Torah is telling us to remember – that wouldn’t make any sense.  The Shem Mishmuel says the torah is telling us to remember that even though Yaakov was hurt, he didn’t stop fighting.  The Torah’s entire command of gid hanashe is not to remember some muscular injury, but to remember how heroic our father Yaakov was.  Even when he was hurt and could have given up, he stayed standing and fought until victory was his.  Said the Sochtchover, in this command of the gid hanashe we find one of lynch-pins of Jewish pride.  No matter how hard we are hit, no matter who it is that tries to overtake us, we as Jews never stay down.  We have a responsibility to be like Yaakov.  To rise up even while limping and broken and to fight on till our righteous way prevails.  The gid hanashe is the eternal remembrance for the greatness and triumph of the Jewish spirit – never destroyed and never broken.

One would think that having our own Jewish state would make the necessity of such intense courage less crucial.  Our experiences in the last few months show us otherwise.  Only Yaakov-like stubbornness can allow our people to overcome the fear and terror if knife-attacks, homicidal drivers, and suicidal shooters.  Ezra Schwartz HY”D did not allow the fear of travelling to Gush Etzion to stop him from doing chesed.  He went with his friends to help those in need at the time they needed it most.  Ezra did not die eternally in that murderous attack.  Like Yaakov, his strength limped away from there and now resides in the heart of every Jew.  A renewed commitment to being victorious in the struggle.  We don’t remember Ezra’s murder or any other victim of terror in order to mourn.  Like the gid hanashe, we remember tragedy because it reminds us the Jewish nation will never be put down.  May it be G-d’s will that we will continue limp ahead until the sun rises for us like it did for Yaakov.