Circumcision of the Heart

imageRecently, I asked several people for their opinion. I asked, What, to you, is circumcision of the heart? Some of the most common answers I received are:

  • Inward showing of the covenant.
  • I’m assuming you are referring to Deuteronomy 30:6 And the Lord your G-d will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. I agree with one of the studies I have that says it much better than I could: Reinforces the theme that faith begins in the heart with the gracious work of the Holy Spirit through the Word, and manifests itself in obedience to the one True G-d. G-d Himself, with no assistance from humans, would write his Law [Torah] on their hearts. A good link and continuation of this theme is Jeremiah 31:31-34.
  • Basically that it is removing that which interferes or hinders your relationship with HaShem.
  • I would say not just accepting G-d’s commandments with your whole heart, but trying to live them despite your imperfections. I also think it’s a willingness to sacrifice of yourself by placing your trust in HaShem. By choosing to follow Him and live your life according to His commands you demonstrate that relationship.

This comes from a reading in Deuteronomy 30, where Hashem announces, And the LORD your G-d will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live, but what does circumcision of the heart mean? As the book of Deuteronomy comes to an end, we prepare to begin reading the book of Genesis again. Often, we hear that the story never ends – that, as the Torah ends, it transitions to the book of Genesis, where the cycle begins once again. I never saw it as a smooth transition until recently. Simchah Torah was simply a service where you read the last portion of Deuteronomy [Vezot Habrachah], the Torah is rolled back to the beginning, and the first Aliyah of Genesis [Bereshit] is read. These two readings do not create a sense of synchronicity, so this cannot be where the idea that the Torah reading cycle transitions back to the beginning as a smooth never-ending circle. The idea comes from somewhere else.

In Genesis 17 and Leviticus 12 [one could include Exodus 12 as well], the Torah commands the act of circumcision. Being sensitive not to be too graphic, in circumcision, a mohel cuts away a ringlike covering from the eight-day-old baby boy’s privates during a religious ceremony, and the boy is officially named and brought into the covenant of Israel.

Leviticus and Deuteronomy both contain a set of Tochachah [this hebrew word means to provide proof, but it’s commonly translated as rebuke]. Leviticus ends with Parsha Bechukosai and Moshe provide the first set of these tochachos: if you behave badly, then this will happen and then this will happen if you behave well. A question arises with this set of rebukes: “Why?” Why does Moshe give tochachos at the end of Leviticus? To answer that question one must also ask, “What is supposed to happen next?” Not, what did happen, but what should have happened? Up to this point, the Jews were liberated from Egypt, they received the Torah, they built the Tabernacle, and the priesthood was established and set into motion. The next thing in line was to pick up their belongings and head into the land. Therefore, Moshe Rabbeinu warned us [through a series of conditional statements] what to expect if we uphold to the standards set forth in Torah, and what to expect if we falter and renege on our part of the Covenant. This is also why Leviticus concludes with several mitzvos regarding dedications of money, property, and real estate to the Temple. The intent was to enter the land, begin removing the abhorrent religious practices in the land, and to build a Temple on the place where G-d has placed his name. The sages say if Moshe would have built the Temple, it never would have been razed [let alone twice] and it would be standing this very day.

Since we answered the question why Moshe recited the tochachot in Leviticus, let the question be asked again in regard to the tochachot in Deuteronomy 28:01 – 30:12. of course the answer is the same: Moshe is concerned for the people and he wants to give them warnings before entering the Land.

There is a distinct difference in the Deuteronomy list because it appears almost predictive. Perek (chapter) 30 begins, What will happen is, when all these things come upon you… The logical IF-THEN statement does not appear here. It may appear earlier in the list of rebukes and blessings, but not here. Moshe appears to have been given a divine glimpse into our future and his joy is dashed. We fail and we suffer the consequences of our sin. In the verses that open Chapter 30, there is a lot of movement, specifically in the returning.

v.2 – you will return to Hashem your G-d with all your heart and soul…
v.3 – Hashem your G-d will return your captives [from exile]
v.3 – He will gather you again from all the nations
v.4 – He will gather even from the extremities of the skies
v.5 – Hashem will bring you to the Land

The next verse is crucial: And Hashem your G-d will circumcise your heart, and the heart of you children, to love the LORD your G-d with all your heart, and with all your soul, that you shall live. Now, if the bris milah [circumcision] involves cutting away a portion of the flesh, what is being cut away from the heart? My friends have expressed their views above, and the general consensus seems to be that this cutting away is represented by a transition from a sinful lifestyle to a lifestyle influenced by Torah – which, logically would express itself in a life involving less sin.

When Hashem created man, they were without sin. It was in their nature (or instinct) to do what is good. In the Garden account, the serpent taunts Chavah [Eve] with the idea that eating from the etz hadat tov vara [tree of knowledge of good and evil] would make them as elohim, knowing good and evil. Elohim in the words of the serpent, is not saying Adam and Chavah would be like Hashem, but like the malachim, the angels, who are called elohim in many instance [see Psalms 8:5 and Genesis 28:12 for two examples]. The problem here is that she already knew the difference between good and evil, only she didn’t realize it. The choices she and Adam made were always good. It was in their very nature; any other choice was not good. Adam and Chavah lived in an orchard of black and white; they knew what was good for them and the choices they made revolved around this concrete knowledge. They were naked but it created neither shame nor desire in them [no manipulation was afforded by either in order to gain sensual pleasure]. The sexual organs were no different than the hands, face, or nose; the parts of the body all performed a function and their life was as simple as that. However, in Genesis 3:6, the nomenclature used to describe Chavah’s thoughts already indicates a change, for she saw delight in the tree and now she possessed a desire for this wisdom. Once they ate of the tree, their hearts were forever covered, and his new covering manifested itself in desire, shame, justification, and death [death came because this yetzer hara – this new inclination of evil – would permit them to justify doing what is harmful, thus causing their own death].

Once they ate of the etz hadat tov vara, they now experienced something that probably surprised them. No longer were they able to instinctively make good choices. Now they confused good and evil. If one takes a cup of coffee and a cup of milk and pour them together into a clear cup, it becomes nearly impossible to distinguish between coffee and milk. Thus was their problem: good and evil [tov vara] were on equal standing in their minds – good and evil were now choices to be considered and justification to use either – depending upon the needs of the moment – was born. Each and every time a decision had to be made, they were forced to choose between what is good [often without an immediate noticeable benefit] and what is evil [often with the possibility of providing great pleasure or benefit].

Since we have inherited this confusion from our first parents, Torah provides some clues how to combat this terrible side effect. Hashem states, If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you can rule over it. Further Torah says, Yet Hashem set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise, therefore, the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. Torah also exclaims, You shall be holy for I, Hashem your G-d, am holy. While these are not impossible tasks, they certainly are daunting tasks and they require a resolute heart to continually accomplish them.

At the beginning of Torah, we see humanity in a state of perfection and unity with Hashem. In chapter 30 of Deuteronomy, Moshe’s predicts humanity shall return to this state of perfection, but only with the help of Hashem. Gan Eden [the Garden of Eden, Paradise, the Orchard], then, becomes more a prophetic glimpse into what we shall become and less a historical event! In Deuteronomy 30:6, circumcision of the heart is prophetic. In the future, when Moshiach comes, we will be changed. In a similar manner, the Besorah reads, For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. Also in the prophets we read, I will put My Torah in their inward parts, and in their heart I will write it; and I will be their G-d, and they shall be My people; and every man shall no longer teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying: ‘Know Hashem;’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says Hashem; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I no longer will remember their sin. In the resurrection, when Moshiach comes, we will be transformed, and the murky lens of adat tov vara [the knowlege of good and evil] will be circumcised from our hearts and we will once again be transformed into a people with the proclivity to choose good; it will become a character trait. We will have the instinct to choose what is right and holy. The confusion we gained from the etz hadat tov vera will fall away and clarity will return. At that moment, we will imitate Moshiach and we will be holy as Hashem our G-d is holy.

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