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Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Communities

08/07/2020 12:39:41 PM

Aug7

            Shabbat Shalom! This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Eikev, in which Moses continues his long final address to the Israelites, warning them to remember that all their good fortune derives from God and any loss of faith in God will have disastrous results for them. Part of this includes what comes to be the second paragraph of the v’ahavta in traditional prayer books – the contract that if Israelites obey God’s commandments and pray only to God, God will make the rain to fall, the crops to grow, their populations and herds to increase, and so on. Following this, Moses tells the people in order to submit to God as fully as expected they will need to “Circumcise the coverings [their] hearts and stiffen [their] necks no more” (Deuteronomy 10:16).

            Typically, we think of circumcision meaning a particular thing, so what does it mean here, in regards to the heart? According to the midrashic Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer, “Rabbi Ẓe'era said: There are five kinds of things uncircumcised in the world: four with reference to man, and one concerning trees. What are four applying to man? Namely, the uncircumcision of the ear, the uncircumcision of the lips, the uncircumcision of the heart, and the uncircumcision of the flesh. [proof texts are given for all four, but for our purposes, let’s cut (pun intended) to the heart]. Whence do we know of the uncircumcision of the heart? Because it is said, ‘Circumcise the foreskin of your heart’ (Deut. 10:16); and (the text) says, ‘For all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart’ (Jer. 9:26). The uncircumcision of the heart does not suffer Israel to do the will of their Creator. And in the future the Holy One, blessed be He, will take away from Israel the uncircumcision of the heart, and they will not harden their stubborn (heart) any more before their Creator, as it is said, ‘And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh’ (Ezek. 36:26).” Adopting the biblical/liturgical understanding of “heart” as the intelligence center, Sforno adds, “It is appropriate that you remove the ‘foreskin,’ prejudices with which your intelligence is afflicted, so that you will realize the errors you have made in your world outlook based on false premises.”

            We all have prejudices and blindspots, things that bar us from having completely open hearts. These “foreskins” of the heart not only keep us from trusting in the Divine or from experiencing Holiness, they also keep us separate from one another and inhibit us from being able to fully embrace the essence of Torah, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else; now go and learn.” Go and learn more about the others around you so that you may better share this world with them. Go and learn about experiences that differ from yours. Unstiffen your necks so that you may full look around and see the world for what it truly is, not just your own path. In fact, I believe that these shortcomings in connecting with others and acting righteously are precisely what keeps us from being able to trust the Divine or experience Holiness, because that holiness lives in the Divine spark that ignites when one human heart touches another.

            May we learn to open our minds and hearts to others, replacing hearts of stone with hearts of flesh, and may we all feel the Divine spark that connects us all as humans. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.

Fri, October 23 2020 5 Cheshvan 5781