Parasha Inspiration – Eikev

וּמַלְתֶּ֕ם אֵ֖ת עָרְלַ֣ת לְבַבְכֶ֑ם וְעָ֨רְפְּכֶ֔ם לֹ֥א תַקְשׁ֖וּ עֽוֹד:

You shall circumcise the foreskin of your heart, therefore, and be no more stiffnecked.

Deuteronomy 10:16

אִם־תָּשׁ֨וּב יִשְׂרָאֵ֧ל | נְאֻם־יְהֹוָ֛ה אֵלַ֖י תָּשׁ֑וּב וְאִם־תָּסִ֧יר שִׁקּוּצֶ֛יךָ מִפָּנַ֖י וְלֹ֥א תָנֽוּד: וְנִשְׁבַּ֙עְתָּ֙ חַי־יְהֹוָ֔ה בֶּאֱמֶ֖ת בְּמִשְׁפָּ֣ט וּבִצְדָקָ֑ה וְהִתְבָּ֥רְכוּ ב֛וֹ גּוֹיִ֖ם וּב֥וֹ יִתְהַלָּֽלוּ: כִּי־כֹ֣ה | אָמַ֣ר יְהוָֹ֗ה לְאִ֚ישׁ יְהוּדָה֙ וְלִיר֣וּשָׁלִַ֔ם נִ֥ירוּ לָכֶ֖ם נִ֑יר וְאַל־תִּזְרְע֖וּ אֶל־קֹצִֽים: הִמֹּ֣לוּ לַֽיהֹוָ֗ה וְהָסִ֙רוּ֙ עָרְל֣וֹת לְבַבְכֶ֔ם אִ֥ישׁ יְהוּדָ֖ה וְיֹֽשְׁבֵ֣י יְרֽוּשָׁלִָ֑ם פֶּן־תֵּצֵ֨א כָאֵ֜שׁ חֲמָתִ֗י וּבָֽעֲרָה֙ וְאֵ֣ין מְכַבֶּ֔ה מִפְּנֵ֖י רֹ֥עַ מַֽעַלְלֵיכֶֽם:

If you return, O Israel, says the Lord, to Me, you shall return, and if you remove your detestable things from My Presence, you shall not wander. And you will swear, “As the Lord lives,” in truth and in justice and in righteousness, nations will bless themselves with him and boast about him. For so said the Lord to the people of Judah and to Jerusalem: Plow for yourself a furrow, and do not sow upon thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord and remove the foreskins of your heart, O people of Judah and dwellers of Jerusalem, lest My anger go forth and burn with none to quench it because of the evil of your deeds.

Jeremiah 4:1-4

You who take such pride in Torah, do you, by disobeying the Torah, dishonor God? — as it says in the Tanakh“For it is because of you that God’s name is blasphemed by the Goyim.”For circumcision is indeed of value if you do what Torah says. But if you are a transgressor of Torah, your circumcision has become uncircumcision! Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the Torah, won’t his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? Indeed, the man who is physically uncircumcised but obeys the Torah will stand as a judgment on you who have had a b’rit-milah and have Torah written out but violate it! For the real Jew is not merely Jewish outwardly: true circumcision is not only external and physical. On the contrary, the real Jew is one inwardly; and true circumcision is of the heart, spiritual not literal; so that his praise comes not from other people but from God.

Romans 2:23-29

This week’s Torah portion contains an idea that is pervasive throughout Scripture. The idea of circumcision of the heart. Many people do not understand that this concept goes all the way back to Torah, that it is not a concept new in the New Testament. Most often, when discussing circumcision of the heart, the quote above from Romans 2 is used. But to understand Romans, we must go back to the roots of the idea in Torah.

Moses uses this term, circumcision of the heart, in a very specific way. Jeremiah, likewise, uses the terminology in precisely the same way. To circumcise one’s heart is to make teshuva, to return to obedience of Hashem. The obedience is not only physical or in part, but psychological submission to the authority of Hashem. Do what Hashem says, because we love Hashem with all our heart, all our soul and with all our strength.

Without this context, Paul’s point in Romans 2, is a bit confusing. If one is uncircumcised, isn’t one violating Torah? How can one follow Torah and not be circumcised? Paul’s point here is indeed about circumcision of the heart. That is, teshuvah, returning to the path of righteousness, turning to Torah. The return to Torah must be not only outwardly, but inwardly as well. True teshuvah is a turning to Hashem within. True teshuvah manifests through outward behavior, but the real change is within. Shabbat shalom.

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Rabbi Steven Bernstein

Steve was born on Lag B’Omer in Ann Arbor, MI but was raised in Gainesville, FL. The son of two University of Florida professors, he excelled in the sciences in school. In addition to his normal academic studies, he pursued his Jewish education studying with many Rabbis and professors of Judaic Studies from the University including visiting Rabbis such as Abraham Joshua Heschel and Shlomo Carlebach.