The story of the struggle of Jacob with the angel is used by the Zohar to show how every day in the year as well as every limb in the body has a spiritual counterpart. In his struggle with the angel 'Satan' [the Angel of Death], he was injured in the sciatic nerve. This nerve is rooted in the lower spine and runs down the thigh to the ankle. It is traditionally associated with the sexual drive.

A person has 248 limbs corresponding to the 248 "positive" commandments the Torah requires action to fulfill. These also correspond to the 248 angels that the Shechinah clothes herself in.

The names of these angels are like the name of their Master.

The Hebrew word for "angel", "malach", has a numerical value of 91 and is the same as the names Havayah (26) and Ado-nai (65) when added together. Each limb, when consciously used to perform a mitzvah, is connected to the spiritual source of that limb and vitalized by the union of the spiritual, represented by the name Havayah and the physical, represented by the name Ado-nai. The indwelling of the light from its spiritual source is then made possible in the physical world enabling the Shechinah to have a dwelling place in the physical world.

A person also has 365 sinews and these correspond to the 365 "negative" commandments that one should not do, and corresponding to this are the 365 days of the year. Failing to resist the temptation or perform the mitzva weakens the limb or nerve…

The sinews or nerves carry instructions to the limbs from the brain, requiring them to act. Consciously obeying the will of G‑d by not acting in a situation where a person "feels" like acting, strengthens the corresponding sinew or nerve and causes holiness to dwell upon it. Failing to resist the temptation or perform the mitzva weakens the limb or nerve and causes a spirit of impurity to dwell on it. Each nerve and each day have a corresponding angelic force.

And here we see that the 9th of Av is one of these days and its corresponding angel is Satan ['Satan'] who is one of the 365 angels.

This is the reason the Torah says "the Children of Israel do not eat ['et'] the sciatic nerve which is in the hollow of the thigh to this day because he [the angel 'Satan'] damaged the Jacob's pelvis in the sciatic nerve." (Gen. 32:33)

Jacob was damaged in the pelvic region because this was where the Satan could claim he had not followed the Torah by marrying two sisters. Although this argument is refuted on many grounds it nevertheless gave the accusing angel a hold over Jacob.

Note that the text includes the word "et" (in square brackets) that seems unnecessary and has only a grammatical relevance generally showing an intention to add something to the text that might otherwise be excluded.

The word "et" comes to include the 9th of Av on which there is no eating or drinking.

The text is therefore interpreted as stressing the fact that even though there is no eating or drinking on the 9th of Av, even on that day it is also specifically forbidden to eat the sciatic nerve.

Because of this [it is clear] that the Holy One, blessed be He, saw everything and gave a hint of them to Jacob.

And Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until dawn arose.(Gen. 32:25) This shows that the angel tried to fault him on every day of the year and on every one of his sinews, and he only found a hold on the sciatic nerve. Immediately Jacob's power was weakened, and in the days of the year this [weakening] corresponds to the 9th of Av.

Once the strength of a limb or nerve is damaged by a sin, or in the case of a tzadik like Jacob even the hint of a sin, this enables External Forces causing "accidents" and sickness to gain power over them.

That day…'Satan' was chosen out of all of the myriads of angels to lead the heavenly prayer service…

The Midrash asks why the angel asked to be released at dawn and answers that it was that day the 'Satan' was chosen out of all of the myriads of angels to lead the heavenly prayer service. He was chosen because he had been beaten! We see from this that his role is not to win! We are supposed to overcome the tests of temptation, and when we do so we elevate even this most powerful of negative forces to its source in holiness.

On this day the power of 'Satan' is increased, and stern judgment was passed on us [causing a whole generation to die in the desert after they believed the report of the Spies] and the Temple was destroyed. And so it is that anyone who eats on the 9th of Av is considered as though he eats of the sciatic nerve.

So we see that it is not an "accident" that so many disasters have occurred to the descendants of Jacob on this day. It is a result of a weakness to give in to temptation that we must resolve to rectify and fasting strengthens this resolve at its most basic level. We constantly have to struggle with the temptation to eat or drink on this, one of the hottest and most uncomfortable days of the year. By succeeding we strengthen the forces of the holy in our own body and empower the rebuilding of the Temple.

Zohar, Vayishlach, p.170b; translation and commentary by Simcha-Shmuel Treister

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