United Hebrew Congregation, 13788 Conway Road, St. Louis, MO 63141 | 314-469-0700

August 7, 2020 – Eikev

Shabbat Message from Cantor Ron Eichaker

In his three speeches contained in this week’s section of the Torah, Moses covers: the importance of faithfulness to the Covenant (respecting and living the laws daily), principles of reverence (what does God require of you) and the occupation of the Land (past lessons as foundations for future actions). Throughout Parashat Eikev (consequence, consequently, because of…, in the end…) Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25 proposes that the experiences of the Israelites were laid before them as a series of “tests” (nasot’cha – your tests in 8:16) by which they would / could qualify to occupy, manage and pass down the Promised Land.

When you read the word “circumcise” you probably think of what happens to the hapless 8-day-old (for the most part) boy when his foreskin is removed. Setting that aside, the ritual of the 8th day that is, the act of circumcision is just that, a circular incision that is performed to remove an obstruction or covering, in this case the foreskin (Middle English: from Old French circonciser, or from Latin circumcis- ‘cut around’, from the verb circumcidere, from circum ‘around, about’ + caedere ‘to cut’). Can other anatomical appendages be circumcised? Glad you asked. Yes. This begs exploration that would result in tangents not appropriate for this topic. What if there was a metaphorical appendage that needs to be circumcised; say, for example, the heart? We know that a heart cannot, nor probably should not, be circumcised (the modern application indicates that the act is a ritual rather than a medical reason). What about the heart of each person that drives them to actions? Yes, that heart. Can that heart be circumcised? Yes, it can and should. Deuteronomy 10:16 uses this metaphor in getting to the point (sorry about that pun) of the messaging Moses gave to the people. He is pleading with the people (after his pleas to God were left to voice mail) were emphasized with this phrase “Umaltem eit arlat l’vavchem… – Circumcise, therefore, the foreskin of your heart…”. This phrase is classically interpreted as to tell the Israelites to remove the hard, encrusted, calloused impediment surrounding your heart. Think about that. In what ways has your heart (emotions, sentiments or opinions) been hardened? Have past experiences, or zones of biases dropped you into a box and closed the lid?

Parashat Eikev in the context of the definition of the title word, reminds us that there are consequences for our actions. The consequences are results of the myriad tests we face in daily living. When our biases are clouding or somehow impeding our ability to make our best choices, we must cut through the thick, calloused and, at times, suffocating membranes that are in constant abrasive contact through stilted narratives, deceptive reasoning and even delusional rationalizing. Freeing ourselves from the stifling grip of, what we perceive to be, the safe place where our ideas and opinions can reside, will open us to an array of experiences, ideas, opinions applications to our life’s functions and create a deeper sense of peace; peace within our minds, our spirit and our place in this world.

The Book of Deuteronomy is seen by many as a postscript or summary of the first four books. In that case, then, we can look back at the Book of Genesis when Abraham (Genesis 17:13) circumcised himself, his family and his whole house as an “everlasting covenant between him / themselves and God”. By releasing the impediments that cloud our minds, constrict our souls and enslave our thoughts we can come closer to God and Nature. We can become more aware of ourselves and our place among the lives on this earth and, free ourselves to devote our efforts to ensure a better place for generations to come. A circumcision of the heart brings us back to the intention of the first circumcision and reminds us that, looking back, we find that we are here on this earth to commemorate those who came before us, celebrate and understand the lives around us and perpetuate our history and heritage so that it can be carried by a yet unborn generation.

Shabbat Shalom

Cantor Eichaker