When I started having back trouble many years ago, I happened to read Genesis (Breshit) chapter 32. I was startled to read in verse 33 that the Children of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh because that is where Jacob was wounded by his wrestling opponent. Somewhere I read that the sciatic nerve is why sirloin steak, for example, is not kosher. Jacob limped after the wrestle because he had sciatica!
Based on this and other parts of Genesis, I began to connect the story of Jacob with the theory that humans have three parts to our brains – the reptilian, the mammalian, and the overdeveloped cerebral cortex that makes us human.
Torah says that Jacob was a “smooth” man – in Hebrew, he was arum. This is exactly the same word used for the serpent in Eden. In that story, the word arum means both shrewd or sly and smooth-skinned. Smooth has both senses in English, too – con men are smooth. And Jacob was arum in that sense, also. He was smooth-skinned, but also clever, sly, perhaps we can even say cold-blooded. He never cried, unlike his hairy brother Esau, who cried after Jacob cheated him. When his blind father Isaac asked his name, Jacob lied, having disguised his smooth skin with the pelt of a goat.
He may not have had a conscience, but he knew fear, so he ran away to the country of his uncle Laban. At the well, he saw Rachel, whose name means a ewe, a female sheep. He wept and fell in love. So he became a mammal, capable of pair bonding and feeling emotion. He was a very successful mammal, breeding both children and flocks. He was still shrewd, of course, successfully outwitting even his sly uncle.
When Jacob wrestled all night with the “ish,” whether the entity was a man, or an angel, or God, he demanded a blessing before he would let go. Once again, someone asked Jacob his name in the dark, and this time he told the truth. He became morally upright. In Hebrew as in English, the same word, yashar, can mean standing erect, or straight, and acting morally. Jacob may have known right from wrong when he was a snaky kid, but as Israel, he was able and willing to act on that knowledge,
But, as every chiropractic patient knows, the price of upright posture is back pain, often sciatica. Perhaps part of the lesson is that being upright, acting righteously, isn’t easy. Sometimes it hurts.