When mentioning the prohibition against partaking of gid hanesheh, the displaced tendon,1 the Torah also explicitly mentions the reason2 for this restriction:3 “Therefore the children of Israel do not eat the gid hanesheh to this day, because [the angel] wounded Yaakov’s hip-socket in the gid hanesheh. ”

This reason defines the extent of the prohibition in a particular manner. The prohibition applies only to the tendon on the hip-socket.4 Since fowl do not have hip sockets of this nature, their tendons are permitted.5

There is a difference of opinion between Rabbi Yehudah and the Sages6 if the prohibition against gid hanesheh applies only to the right tendon or also to the left. This difference of opinion [also has its basis in this historic event].7 Rabbi Yehudah maintains that the angel wounded only Yaakov’s right hip. The Sages, by contrast, maintain that both were dislocated. (“He struck him on both hips until both [tendons] were dislocated and rose”8).

Explanation is required. The commentaries explain9 that the reason for the prohibition is “to recall the might of Yaakov and the miracle which the Holy One, blessed be He, wrought on his behalf,” i.e., it does not bring to mind only the wound which the angel identified with Esav inflicted upon Yaakov, but rather, the entire saga of the conflict between Yaakov and the angel, and Yaakov’s deliverance from him.

The reason that this deliverance is commemorated [through a mitzvah] although the Torah speaks of many instances where Avraham, and also Yaakov himself were saved [by G‑d] and yet these instances were not commemorated for future generations can be understood from the explanation given by the Sefer HaChinuch10 (and other commentaries11):

This is an allusion for the Jewish people that although they will endure many difficulties in exile from the gentiles and from Esav’s descendants, they should remain confident and secure that they will not perish, and their descendants will abide forever.

Thus this deliverance is of a most general nature, relating to the history of the Jewish people as a whole.

Based on the above, there is a conceptual difficulty: When a particular matter is commemorated, the commemoration must share a thematic connection to the subject which is being commemorated. For example, the commemoration of the exodus from Egypt on Pesach involves performing “all of the deeds performed this night in a manner which reflects freedom.”12 Similarly, [G‑d’s] creation [of the world] is commemorated by refraining from performing work on the Shabbos.

Why, then, does the commemoration of a matter of such fundamental and general importance (the salvation of Yaakov which is an allusion to the salvation of the Jewish people as a whole from the hands of Esav’s descendants) involve only the particular prohibition of gid hanesheh13 (which is only one particular dimension of the event14). Moreover, the prohibition is restricted in its mode and its particulars according to individual aspects of the event concerning the wound to Yaakov’s hip-socket (although these particulars appear to pale in significance when compared to the totality of the event and the deliverance [of Yaakov]).15 Thus it does not appear as an appropriate commemoration for the concept (as a whole).

Another point can be added: The Torah explicitly mentions the reason for the prohibition. (Indeed, according to the opinion of the Sages, this verse: “Therefore the children of Israel do not eat…” was mentioned at Sinai,16 except that it was written in its place so that [the Jewish people] would know the reason for the prohibition.17 Thus the Torah mentions the verse immediately instead of waiting until the point when it was actually stated, because it is so important that we know why the gid hanesheh was forbidden.)

On this basis, it is likely to conclude that the two extremes reflected in the prohibition of gid hanesheh (the commemoration of an event of very general significance and the concentration on one particular dimension of the event) is not merely a Divine decree whose rationale has not been revealed, but rather, a matter which has an (intellectual) rationale.18

II. The above can be understood based on one of the explanations of the advantage of the manner in which G‑d manifests His providence over the Jewish people over the way He manifests His providence over other created beings. {For, as explained above, this is the theme of the mitzvah of gid hanesheh to acknowledge G‑d’s protection and providence over His people Israel so that they will not perish in their exile among the gentile nations.}

As a preface: The interpretation and the new conception of hashgachah peratis Divine Providence developed by our master, the Baal Shem Tov, is well known.19 He explains that G‑d manifests His providence in a particular manner, not only upon humans, but on every created being even animals, plants, and inanimate objects. Before the Baal Shem Tov’s time, there were Jewish sages who maintained that the concept that G‑d manifests His providence over each individual in a particular manner applies only with regard to humans. With regard to animals, plants, and inanimate objects, by contrast, He manifests only a general, [encompassing] manner affecting the species as a whole.20 The Baal Shem Tov, by contrast, developed a new conception that even the particular (events that occur to) inanimate objects, plants, and animals are determined by His providence.

{As explained on several occasions, all the concepts spelled out in the teachings of Chassidus have their source (either explicitly, or by allusion) in Nigleh, the revealed, legal dimension of Torah study. Similarly, with regard to this concept there is an explicit support in Nigleh for the concept that G‑d also manifests His providence in a particular way over inanimate objects, plants, and animals. (As the Alter Rebbe,21 whose redemption is celebrated on Yud-Tes Kislev,22 notes,) in the tractate of Chulin,23 our Sages state:

When Rabbi Yochanan would see a shalach (“a bird that draws fish from water”;24 [identified with a pelican or a heron]), he would say: “Your judgments are in the lowly depths.”25 (“For You have arranged for a shalach to carry out Your vengeance against the fish in the sea and kill those which are intended to die.”)

Thus there is an explicit source which states that G‑d’s judgments and edicts apply to an individual fish in the sea. G‑d sends a particular bird to kill a particular fish which is intended to die.}

The Baal Shem Tov explains the nature of G‑d’s providence as follows:26

Not only are all the particular movements of the different species controlled by G‑d’s providence. [Furthermore,] any particular movement of an individual created being has an encompassing effect on the general intent of the creation…. One movement of an individual blade of grass accomplishes the Divine intent for the creation.

{This concept can be illustrated by a simple example from our everyday life. Every successful homemaker, an ashes chayil,27 keeps a careful inventory of everything in her home, making sure that everything is in its proper place and functions as desired. Moreover, she makes certain that all the possessions within the home are aligned with the general mission to which the house is directed. Everything should be carefully planned out. Nothing necessary for the home to function should be lacking, nor should there be anything extraneous (i.e., there should be no entities that do not serve the intent of that mission).

If this is the manner in which an individual woman runs her home, how much more so should such concepts apply with regard to He who creates the world and controls its functioning. All the particular events which occur to each created being in G‑d’s world are controlled by His providence and every one has an effect on the consummation of the Divine intent for the creation.}

III. It is clear that [even] according to the Baal Shem Tov’s conception (that G‑d manifests His providence over the particular dimensions of every creation) there is, [nevertheless,] a fundamental difference between the way He manifests His providence over the creation as a whole, and the way in which He manifests His providence over the Jewish people.

As the Previous Rebbe states in the name of the Baal Shem Tov,28 even though His providence encompasses even the smallest element of every creation, the manner in which He manifests His providence over the Jewish people [is of an entirely different nature]. “There is no way that it can be described…. Everything that affects a Jew is controlled by His providence in a way that is impossible to understand.”

From the wording [of the Previous Rebbe], it would appear that the advantage [of the providence granted the Jewish people] involves also the particular nature of that providence, i.e., to what degree every individual aspect of one’s life fulfills the ultimate Divine intent.

As is well known,29 there are several different modes in which His providence is manifest. In this context, a distinction is made between the phrase “G‑d’s eye is on those who fear Him”30 and the phrase “G‑d’s eyes are on the righteous.” (The difference is whether He “looks” with one eye or with two eyes.31) On the surface, the difference between these two modes32 is not whether His providence involves the particular elements of existence, but the degree to which that providence is manifest whether it is enclothed and concealed in the natural order or overtly revealed to all (to the extent that it leads to a miraculous order).

Nevertheless, the simple interpretation of the wording the Previous Rebbe uses (when quoting the Baal Shem Tov) implies that the advantage of the manner in which He manifests His providence over the Jewish people involves not only the degree to which that providence is manifest, but also how particular that providence is. For although every particular element of existence affects the consummation of His intent for the creation as a whole, there is a wondrous advantage regarding the way He manifests His providence over every dimension involving the Jewish people. ([Indeed,] that advantage transcends intellectual comprehension.

IV. It is possible to explain these concepts as follows: The entire creation “came into being solely from the truth of His being”33 and is controlled by His providence. Nevertheless, G‑d’s primary desire and choice [focuses] on the Jewish people alone. “He chose us from among the nations.”34 And it is written:35 “ ‘I love you,’ exclaims G‑d…. ‘[Although] Esav is Yaakov’s brother… I love Yaakov.’”

This concept is also reflected in our Sages’ statement36 that the world was created “for the sake of the Torah and for the sake of the Jewish people.” The Torah and the Jewish people are the ultimate intent of the creation (as reflected in our Sages’ statement:37 “I was created solely to serve my Creator”). G‑d’s will and His choice are focused on them themselves.

The rest of the creation, by contrast, do not in and of themselves embody an ultimate purpose and goal. They are merely intermediaries that enable G‑d’s intent which is focused on the Torah and the Jewish people [to be consummated].

The manner in which desire (and choice) operates is38 that when a person wants (or chooses) something, it is possible that his desire will be focused on every element and particular of that matter equally (and with the same intensity) despite the differences in the importance and level of the various particulars (when they are considered according to their intrinsic value). {[From this standpoint,] it is possible that if one particular is missing (even if it is seemingly, a minor and secondary factor), there will be a lack in the entire matter, because the desire will not be fulfilled.}39

We see similar concepts with regard to the mitzvos which reflect G‑d’s will, (the decrees of the King, [as it were]40). There are a variety of differences with regard to the mitzvos of the Torah, to refer to wording used by our Sages,41 there are “very easy and light” mitzvos and there are other mitzvos which are “of extreme severity.”42 Nevertheless, our Sages teach:\super 42 “Do not sit and weigh the mitzvos of the Torah,” and the same care should be taken in the observance of all the mitzvos.43 For despite the differences in content (to refer to the expression used by the Sefer HaChinuch, shoreshei hamitzvos, “the roots of the mitzvos,) between one mitzvah and another, all of the mitzvos are G‑d’s will. [And regarding each one,] we say: “who sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us.”44 This is equally true with regard to every particular mitzvah. Just as G‑d desires the “severe” mitzvos , He desires the “easy ones,” with the same will.45

{It is possible to explain that when focusing on this dimension of the mitzvos , when one aspect [of the mitzvos] is lacking, everything is lacking. For example, when a convert is willing to take upon himself [the observance of] the entire Torah with the exception of one particular (even if that particular is a Rabbinic law), he should not be accepted.46 Similarly, “If a person states: ‘The Torah is not from G‑d,’ even [if he says this about] one verse or one letter, he is considered as one who denies the Torah.”47 “(In this regard,)48 there is no difference between the verses:49 “And the sons of Cham were Kush and Mitzrayim,” or “His wife’s name was Mehitabel,”50 and “I am G‑d your L-rd.”51 }

V. On this basis, we can appreciate the higher dimension of Divine providence which G‑d manifests toward Israel, the nation close to Him, in comparison to that which He manifests over the remainder of the creation.

Every particular element [of the creation] has significance for the consummation of the purpose [of creation] as a whole. Nevertheless, each of the elements of the creation is given a degree of importance which reflects its level.

{To cite a parallel: The human body cannot reach perfection unless it contains all its organs and limbs (and indeed, even its hairs and nails). Nevertheless, it is impossible to compare [the importance of] the organs on which the person’s life depends to the other portions of the body (and certainly, no comparison can be made with regard to the hairs and nails which are of very secondary importance).}

Similarly, with regard to the creation as a whole, He manifests His providence on every individual according to its positive virtue,52 (i.e., the extent to which it serves the Torah and the Jewish people).

With regard to the Jewish people, the nation close to Him, by contrast, the providence which He manifests over them is a result of His desire and choice of them. Accordingly, in addition to the fact that He manifests His providence over every facet involving every individual (in a manner in which every particular [helps] fulfill the general intent of the creation as a whole53), the manner in which He manifests His providence upon each individual is not meted out according to his importance (for in this, there are differences between the importance of one individual over another). Instead, His providence is manifest over them all equally. For because of His desire and choice of the Jewish people, every particular individual enjoys equal importance.54

VI. On this basis, we can explain why it was ordained that the commemoration of Yaakov’s deliverance should involve only one dimension of the event (and emphasis is placed on only one particular element (i.e., whether it involves only the right tendon or also the left). This reflects the nature of the Divine providence which was focused on Yaakov (and consequently, on the Jewish people, his descendants).

G‑d’s providence is manifest in a manner that, not only is every particular controlled by His providence (and furthermore, every particular affects the consummation of the general intent), but with regard to the consummation of G‑d’s will, the particulars of seemingly major importance and those which appear secondary and of minor significance, are controlled by Him in an equal manner.

This concept is emphasized through the mitzvah of the gid hanesheh in which the commemoration of the general concept of Yaakov’s deliverance is associated with one particular dimension of the event. This teaches us that every particular dimension was related to his deliverance as a whole.

VII. The concept still requires further explanation. It is true that associating the commemoration [of Yaakov’s deliverance] with a particular element [of the incident] alludes to the unique positive dimension in the manifestation of His providence on the Jewish people that His providence involves every individual particular as explained above. Nevertheless, it would still appear more appropriate to have ordained that the commemoration of the event focus on a more general point. Focusing the commemoration on this particular, appears to detract from the emphasis on the more encompassing dimensions of [Yaakov’s] deliverance, for ultimately, the gid hanesheh relates to only one aspect of the event.55

This concept can be explained by prefacing [the explanation of] another unique dimension of the relationship between G‑d and the Jewish people.56 With regard to the Jewish people, it is written:57 “His nation is a portion of G‑d”; they are a portion of [G‑d’s] essence,58 like a son is a portion of the essence of his father.

Not only does G‑d choose the Jewish people and love them (which indicates that there are two entities, the One who chooses and the chosen, the Lover and the beloved), He and the Jews share one essence, as it were.

{The Maggid of Mezeritch would explain this59 with an analogy [of a father who thinks of the image of a son. In the analogy, however, the son exists before the father thinks of him. In the analogue,] even before the Jewish people came into being, their image is fixed in His thought, as our Sages said:60 “Israel arose in His thought.” Even before they were created as a distinct entity, “their image became engraved in His thought.” The use of the term “engraved” is precise. For an image which is engraved is part and parcel of the substance onto which it is engraved. Similarly, Israel [the image which is engraved] and the Holy One, blessed be He [the substance unto which the image is engraved] are one.}

There is a renown teaching:61 “When you grasp a portion of the essence, you have grasped the essence in its entirety.” For the essence is manifest, with its full sum and substance in each of its particular expressions.62

To cite an example of this concept with regard to the mitzvos : Our Sages teach:63 “A person involved in the performance of one mitzvah is not obligated in the performance of others.” This statement is interpreted to mean that it is considered as if the person has observed the second mitzvah as well,64 for every mitzvah includes within itself all the other mitzvos. This in turn is explained as follows:65 G‑d’s desire for the 613 mitzvos is essential. Therefore by grasping a portion of this will (fulfilling one mitzvah), one grasps the entire essence and it is considered as if one fulfilled all the other mitzvos.66

We find parallel concepts existing with regard to the Jewish people. Every Jewish soul is “an entire world.”67 Indeed, we find that at times (with regard to the laws of saving Jewish lives), one soul is given the same importance as many or as a collective. [To cite an example which reflects this concept]: Gentiles tell a group of Jews: “Give us one of you and we will kill him. If not, we will kill all of you.” [The law is that the Jews] should all be killed, rather than surrender one Jewish soul.68

One of the explanations of this law is that in every portion of the Jewish people, the essence of the Jewish people is manifest. For through the essence of every particular Jew, one may grasp the entire essence.

VIII. On this basis, we can appreciate a deeper conception of the providence which is manifest on every member of the Jewish people, the nation which is close to G‑d. [There are certain] matters which express and reveal the oneness between the Jews and G‑d (i.e., that they are a portion of His essence). In these matters, His providence is manifest, (not only in that He controls every particular and that with regard to certain matters, all of the particulars share an equal connection to the consummation of His general intent,69) but also that every particular expression of His providence over His people reflects the essential bond shared by G‑d and the Jewish people.

This is reflected in Yaakov’s deliverance from the angel of Esav. This was a matter of broad general importance in Yaakov’s life and indeed, affected his very essence.

For this reason, it was not ordained that the commemoration of his deliverance would involve a matter of general importance, but rather a specific particular. For this indicates the deepest possible conception of the providence and protection which G‑d manifests upon the Jewish people. This providence {was given expression with regard to Yaakov, for he is the essence of the Jewish people,70 and his soul included all the souls of the Jewish people for eternity.71 } As a result of it, in every particular dimension, even those which appear of minute and secondary importance, the entire [essence] can be appreciated.

(Adapted from Sichos Erev Chag HaShavuos, 5746,
Sichos Simchas Torah, 5718)

Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXX, p. 148ff.