Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. — Deuteronomy 10:16
The Torah portion for this week is Eikev, which means “therefore” or “heel,” from Deuteronomy 7:12–11:25, and the Haftorah is from Isaiah 49:14–51:3.
One time as I was having lunch in a Jerusalem café, I couldn’t help but notice the scene unfolding a few tables over. There was a shrieking toddler and a bewildered mother trying to dress her panicked child. On the table was a soiled shirt and in the process of putting a clean shirt on her son, the boy’s hands had gotten stuck inside his sleeves. The more he fought his mother and waved his clenched fists, the harder it was for the mom to get his hands moving in the right direction. Had he been calm, he would have been dressed in no time, but as he thrashed his hands around, he only prolonged what to him surely seemed like agony.
I often think about that image and wonder if in life we sometimes do the same thing. Do we sometimes thrash about, stubbornly fighting our way to our goals, when if we were calm and more trusting, things would happen more easily? Are we sometimes like that child, fighting against God, our loving Parent who is trying to help us out?
In our Torah portion we come across this interesting commandment: “Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.” What exactly does this mean?
The verse implies that a circumcised heart is the opposite of being stiff-necked. The first time that the Israelites were called stiff-necked is right after their sin of constructing the Golden Calf. Here, the term indicates that instead of being open to God’s plan when they thought Moses was missing, the Israelites took matters into their own hands. They believed that they needed a leader and stubbornly carried out their plan to create an idol. Being stiff-necked is the type of stubbornness that causes a person to be focused in only one direction and shuts God out completely. A circumcised heart is being open, flexible, and willing to let God in.
An open heart, however, is vulnerable. It’s scary for us to be so open and trusting of God. It’s like letting go and trusting that someone will catch you. No wonder our default state is to have an un-circumcised heart. We think that we are safer that way, but the opposite is true. It is only when we open up to God that He can take care of us, protect us, and guide us on the proper path.
Take some time to examine your heart this week. How is your heart resistant to God? In what areas of life are you “stiff-necked” and feel the need to control? Let us open up our hearts to God and watch how life will open up for us!
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President