Why is the central commandment of circumcision not found in this week’s parasha, Parashat Eikev, or in the entire book of Deuteronomy?
Rabbi Dr. David Frankel explains the omission while uncovering one of the most striking passages in Parashat Eikev: “Circumcise your hearts and be no longer hardened of heart” and reveals an important lesson of how we can become empowered to better ourselves and improve our society.
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This week’s parasha is parashat Eikev. In it, we find several mitzvot or commandments. Interestingly, in this parasha and in the entire book of Deuteronomy, we never find one of the most central commandments in Judaism – the commandment of circumcision or brit milah.
We find in our parasha, a striking passage: “Circumcise your hearts and be no longer hardened of heart.” The question I would like to raise is, why do we not find any reference to the actual commandment of circumcision? Instead, we find this unique formulation of circumcising one’s heart.
I would like to explain this by mentioning two categories of religion that were discussed by the famous Jewish psychoanalyst, Erich Fromm. Fromm talked about two types of religion: authoritarian and humanistic. He identified authoritarian religion, to a great extent, the teaching of Paul and Augustine. What is most important in this form of religion is dependency. The idea of utter dependence and even utter depravity, depravity meaning that man cannot help himself and that people are so sinful that they are beyond help unless God helps them.
This parasha teaches the exact opposite. What the Torah teaches us in the entire book of Deuteronomy and in this week’s parasha, is that we are capable. We have the power to change ourselves. What is most important is not so much the actual circumcision as a ritual. What is most important is the challenge of changing ourselves, of fixing ourselves, of making us better people, more open hearted, more sensitive to others and therefore more humanistic, and this is a perfect example of the type of humanistic religion that Fromm spoke about. And so, what we can learn from this week’s parasha is that we have a responsibility to fix ourselves, to take action and by fixing ourselves to also fix all of our society.
David Frankel is Associate Professor of Bible at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. He has been on the faculty since 1992. He earned his PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem under the direction of Prof. Moshe Weinfeld. His publications include “The Murmuring Stories of the Priestly School,” and “The Land of Canaan and the Destiny of Israel.” From 1991 to 1996, Frankel was rabbi of Congregation Shevet Achim in Gilo, Jerusalem.