"When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him" (Gen 32:25, ESV).
I don't think my brother was trying to kill me.
After all, it was our choice to raft the Lower Deschutes with him. And who could resist such an invitation? Years ago the French named this feature of central Oregon "the river of the falls." With everything from Class 1 to Class 6 rapids, it is one of the premier whitewater sites in the country.
To her credit, Vicki managed to stay on the topside of the raft through 14 river miles. I did not match her accomplishment. For reasons beyond memory, I chose to ride one set of boiling rapids the hard way: underneath the rubber boat gripping a rope like an fluttering anchor. It was my brother--and this is why I believe he wasn't trying to kill me--who eventually hauled my sputtering carcass from the water. "Nothing broken!" I cried, once my lungs cleared of foam. How did we miss the rocks?
With this experience in the tank I should have known better than to try even deeper water.
The next day we headed for the Columbia, motorboat in tow.
It was to be a day of picnicking, tubing, skiing, and hospital-visiting.
Again, my lovely wife proved her prowess. She hung on to the tube as my brother pushed the boat back and forth across the river. Vicki nimbly skipped in the wake. Mt Hood looked down on our little party and smiled.
When it was my turn, I opted for the skis. After all, I had some water-walking experience as a younger man.
I took hold of the rope and waited for the gunning motor. The water churned. I rose to the surface and was almost clear of the river's grip when an audible "pop" sounded. Where did that come from? I was mystified and then cried, released the rope and went down in a tumble. My right leg had been ripped off! I expected it to surface and bob awkwardly in the river beside my head. Mt Hood had disappeared in the clouds.
In retrospect, the experience reminds me of Genesis 32. Jacob--the "heel-grabbing" trickster--was returning to the Heartland. But before he faced his brother, a wrestling match took place. After a prolonged struggle, the mysterious wrestler "smacked" ("touched"?) Jacob in the "hollow" of his thigh. His thigh was "wrenched" or "torn" and left dangling. It is an odd reversal for this one who is remembered for seizing Esau by the leg (Gen 25:26). The leg-seizer is now leg-seized by God.
My leg had not come off, despite my initial horror. It dangled painfully beneath me. I gripped my right butt-cheek. Once again--in a déjà vu moment--my brother hauled my sputtering carcass out of the water and into the boat. After a series of other painful transports (much too ugly to describe), I found myself in the emergency room of a hospital. There, Dr Jump (and no, I'm not making this up) cut off my shorts with her scissors and pronounced my hamstring unstrung. I would not be jumping anytime soon. She prescribed a dose of pain meds and a visit to an orthopedic surgeon. I was wheeled out of the hospital, groggy and unable to walk.
Back in Genesis 32 this story of Jacob's injury becomes a teaching moment.
According to the text, it is for this reason that the observant do not eat the gid hanasheh ("hip sinew"?) which is in the "thigh hollow" from butchered animals (32:32).* The anatomical language is ambiguous. Later Jewish tradition links this feature to the sciatic nerve.** Because this nerve is difficult to isolate and remove in the butchering process, kosher eaters typically forgo hind parts altogether (note to the wise: don't serve filet mignon to your Jewish guests!).
More to the point of the text is the debilitating result of Jacob's injury. Going forward from here, he limps and stumbles (Heb, tzla'). The trick-and-dash tactic is removed from his toolkit. He must learn to slow down and rely on a higher power.
As I write these words, my crutches lean against the wall. I'm stretched out on the couch wondering what the lesson is in this for me? Stay out of the water? Keep a closer eye on my brother? Dial down my pride? Act my age? Eat vegetarian?
Tomorrow I see the surgeon. I should know more.
*That this was practiced in the New Testament period is suggested by Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews (1.20.2).
**The curious can find more on this in the Babylonian Talmud. See here.