Circumcise Me Twice

Parashat Nitzavim (Deuteronomy 29:9[10]-30:20)

Currently, we are living in a world where the heart of man struggles to submit to the Divine will. Its natural tendency is to challenge the guidelines God has established for the good of man. In the Messianic Age, however, the heart of man will surrender to the will of God. The prophets anticipated this future time and spoke of its implications:

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33)

I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26–27)

One day Hashem will subdue the heart of man and cause us to “walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” This total submission to the will of God is sometimes referred to as circumcision of the heart. This concept isn’t something introduced by the prophets. It’s spoken of in the Torah. There are two places in the Torah that mention this concept of circumcising the heart and they are both found in the book of Deuteronomy. The first is a command for us to circumcise our own hearts:

“Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn” (Deuteronomy 10:16).

The second, however, is a promise of what Hashem will do and it comes right from our Torah portion:

And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Deuteronomy 30:6)

After reading these two passages one might ask, “Who will actually do the work of circumcising our hearts? Do we do it ourselves or does God do it?” However, we must realize that the first passage is a command for us, and the second is a promise from Hashem. But we need to know what causes this promise to come to pass. If we back up just a few verses in this week’s reading we will discover that this is a conditional promise. It will only take place when something else happens. What is the condition for this to take place? It says this will take place when the Children of Israel will “return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul” (vs. 2).

In Hebrew, the word for “return” (shuv) is the same word used for “repent.” Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures the LORD calls for Israel to repent—to return to Him and His Torah. Therefore, to repent means to turn away from going one’s own way and turn back to God’s ways. This passage promises that if we repent and turn back to God and His Torah, then God will assist us in our repentance. He will not only circumcise our hearts for us, but the hearts of our children as well, “so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”

The Talmud summarizes this principle by saying, “If one comes to cleanse himself, he is helped [by God]” (b.Shabbat 104a). In other words, if we do our part through sincere repentance, then God will do the rest. But in order for God to do His part, we first have to do ours. There are two circumcisions of our heart that must take place. The first is up to us. The second is in the hands of Heaven. If we will begin the work of circumcising our hearts, He will be faithful to complete it.