Parashat Eikev – Erev Shabbat 19 August 2022
Week of 14-20 August 2022
Torah portion: Deuteronomy 7 :12-11 :25 Haftarah: Isaiah 49 :14-51 :3
Theme : The past, the future and the ‘ in between’
Parashat Eikev (“because”, “as a consequence of” , “if”) continues the speeches of Moses to the assembled Israelites at the plain of Moab set in the time immediately preceding his death. The basic premise of the Book of Deuteronomy is that the aged Moses speaks for the last time to the Israelites before their triumphant entry into the Promised Land, directly addressing a living audience composed of not only the ancient hearers portrayed in the text but also contemporary listeners. He tells them that “if” they fulfill the commandments of the Torah, they will prosper in the Land they are about to conquer and settle in keeping with God’s promise to their forefathers. God is unchanging and faithful; therefore, Israel’s fate for good or evil depends essentially on the people itself. (Plaut,1228).
Moses also rebukes them for their failings in their first generation as a people by recalling, in sentences laden with moral reproof, the sins of the children of Israel in the wilderness – their worship of the Golden Calf; the rebellion of Korach; their tempting the Lord; their murmurings; and the incident of the spies. “You have been rebellious against God,” he says to them, “since the day I knew you” (9:24). Yet at the end of it all, as if starting a new page of history and leaving behind all the wrongdoing of the past, (Leibowitz, 97), he concludes by putting a hard question to them: “And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God demand of you? Only to revere the Lord your God, to walk only in his paths, to love him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, keeping the Lord’s commandments and laws, which I enjoin upon you today, for your good” (10:12-13). The opening phrase starts a new chapter, looking ahead into the future, in contrast to the retrospective character of the previous. (Leibowitz 98)
Pivoting from the tempestuous past to a more hopeful future, Moses instructs the people, “Circumcise the foreskin of your hearts and stiffen your necks no more” (10:16). Clearly a metaphor, what does it mean? Berit milah, or the covenant of circumcision, is a ritual from the time of Abraham to identify an Israelite; it is an act of obedient surrender, of vulnerability, a sign or seal of promise between the Israelite people and God. Traditionally, the ritual is performed on the eighth day after the birth of males, or as a part of the male conversion ceremony, in fulfillment of the Torah’s commandment (Gen. 17:9-14).
The foreskin of the male genital has no known anatomic or physiologic function, except for protection of the glans penis in utero and during birth. The cutting off of the foreskin will leave a physical mark, a scar, perhaps to serve as a reminder not only of the covenant but for man not to walk in the flesh. In this parashah, Moses transposed this submissive act into a deeper vital organ, the heart. This metaphoric command becomes part of the answer to a rhetoric question in verse 10:12. The adjuration “circumcise the foreskin of your heart and no longer stiffen neck” seems to indicate the necessity of removing all obstacles and impediments to the expression of this love and fear of God and commitment to mitzvot. (Goldstein, 347). Just as the “uncircumcised ears” (Jer. 6:10) are closed to sound, and uncircumcised lips (Ex. 6: 12.30) do not open well in speech, the “uncircumcised heart” (Lev. 26: 41; Jer. 9: 25; Ezek. 44: 7.9) is closed and unreceptive to divine grace and guidance (New American Bible 169). The “foreskin” is what blocks your heart and renders it inaccessible to God’s teaching, a metaphor for mental obstruction that has made Israel stubborn. In other words, remove that which obstructs your heart and keeps you from following God’s commands, open yourself up to experiencing “the great, the mighty, and the awesome God” (10:17) (Ezkenazi ,1110).
For Reflection and Discussion: Why was male circumcision a sign of the covenant in the time of Abraham, while a gender-free “circumcision of the heart” is the sign as the Israelites enter the Promised Land?
Bibliography: Eskenazi, (ed), The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (New York: 2008), Goldstein, (ed), The Women’s Torah Commentary (Woodstock, Vermont: 2006) Leibowitz, Studies in Devarim (Deuteronomy) (Israel) Plaut, The The Torah: A Modern Commentary (New York: 1981) The New American Bible (Catholic Bible Press: 2002)
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Ruby A. Simon, M.D., Philippines, Bat Kol 2007, 2009