Rabbi’s Corner

At Chanukah, kashrut reminder of miracles

Rabbi Israel Becker
Rabbi Israel Becker

There is a specific kosher law pertaining to sirloin steak and filet mignon that contains a hidden message about miracles and survival.

This law actually dates back to a dramatic episode recorded in the Torah, when our patriarch Jacob, returning to Israel with his young and large family, was ambushed and attacked by a “man.”

The Talmud and Midrash explain that this was no ordinary man, but actually an angel representing the nations of the world who would attempt to annihilate the Jews. Jacob’s hip joint was dislocated when he struggled with the angel. Despite the wound, Jacob pinned the angel down until the angel begged for release.

G-d wanted us to remember the failed attempt to destroy Jacob, and we are commanded in the third of the 613 commandments not to eat the sciatic and certain other nerves in the thigh area of the animal, the area of sirloin steak and filet mignon.

The Sefer HaChinuch, a Torah commentary expounding on each of the 613 commandments, explains that the reason we refrain from eating that section of the animal is to remind us that many efforts to “rid the world of Jews and Judaism” were yet to come, but none would succeed.

We may be weakened, just as our ancestor Jacob was weakened. But each time we will again emerge, refreshed and revitalized.

This message, written in the Sefer HaChinuch 700 years ago, should be especially inspiring to us as we recall the events of 70 years ago. January 2015 marks 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz. From 1939 to 1945, one out of every three Jews was killed, a staggering percentage.

Could the broken survivors of the Holocaust have possibly envisioned the blossoming of the State of Israel and rejuvenation of Jewish life in Israel and the United States? Just like Jacob, we were weakened. We were wounded. Yet we reemerged with full strength and vitality. How fortunate are we that we witnessed with our own eyes the fulfillment of the message of the sirloin steak.

This Chanukah, in 2014, when we light the Chanukah candles each night, Jews all over the world will recite with feeling, “Blessed are You, Our G-d, King of the Universe, Who has performed miracles for our Forefathers, in those times and in our times.”

This blessing reminds us to appreciate the miracle of our survival, to look to the past for inspiration and look to the present and perceive with our own eyes the ongoing fulfillment of G-d’s promise.

The triumph of our ancestor Jacob so long ago, and the victory of the Jewish nation at the time of Chanukah, when the mightiest empire in the world aimed its entire arsenal at the tiny Jewish nation, is a miracle that has been repeated again and again. G-d continues to bless us with the miracle of survival. G-d has kept his promise. History has shown that no nation can succeed in destroying us. The fact that G-d has kept his promise in the past must surely inspire us to know that G-d is with us and will fulfill his ultimate promise, peace on earth for the Jewish people and for all mankind.

Sirloin steak or filet mignon may be delicious. But fulfilling the mitzvah of not eating them reminds us of G-d’s presence in our lives and the lives of our people. This reminder is better than a steak any day.