Sunday, July 18, 2010

Don't Eat the Sciatic Nerve

You are not allowed to eat the sciatic nerve. It is a mitzvah. The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in your body. It starts in your lower back and runs down the back of your leg. Most kosher animals have a sciatic nerve, too. It is in their hind legs. And you are not allowed to eat it.

Why not?

Check out the Book of Genesis (32:25). One night – late at night – a stranger attacked Jacob (the father of the Jewish people). They wrestled until dawn. The stranger tried to destroy Jacob. He couldn’t. But he was able to hurt him – he dislocated his thigh. Jacob overpowered him in the morning. The stranger fled and Jacob was healed by the sunshine.

The story is a parable for Jewish history. The night is the exile. Jacob is the Jewish people. The stranger is the enemy. And the Jews have many enemies. The enemies attack but cannot destroy them.

But they can hurt them.

The morning is the end of the exile. The Jews won’t get attacked or hurt in the morning.

The story has a happy ending. But it is hard to remember the happy ending at night. Did you ever have a terrible dream? It doesn’t seem like it will ever end. You wake up screaming. But it ends and in the morning everything is ok.

And that is the mitzvah: don’t eat the sciatic nerve. Jacob’s sciatic nerve was injured when his thigh was displaced. But in the morning he was fine. When you don’t eat the hindquarters of a kosher animal – like sirloin, tenderloin, and round – you remember Jacob’s story. You remember that although it is scary at night, morning is coming and you will survive.

And you will do better than just survive. You have to. It is your destiny.

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