Lech Lecha: Choices of the Heart

avrahamThe Torah portion of Lech Lecha relates how G-d commanded Avraham to circumcise himself and the members of his household. By doing so, Avraham became the first and primary individual to adopt the sign of the holy covenant that exists between G-d and every Jew.

This connection between circumcision and Avraham is so strong that the blessings for circumcision include the phrase: “to enter him into the covenant of Avraham, our father,” i.e., the circumcision currently taking place is directly related to our patriarch Avraham. Since Avraham is our father,he makes it possible for all of us, his children, to inherit the privilege of entering into an eternal covenant with G-d.

This kind of inheritance is not at all dependent on any preparations or qualifications on the part of the inheritor — a one-day old infant can inherit everything.

Commentary for Torah Portion Lech lecha
“The Covenant of Avraham”
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. X, pp. 44-47

The Brit Milah, the covenant of circumcision is something that no one can ask for and no one can reject. Jews males are circumcised on their eighth-day in accordance to the commandment and become part of Israel, and Israel becomes a part of them. But Ishmael was also a son of Abraham. Does the older son inherit along with Isaac? The commentary continues.

The following, however, must be understood: In explaining the commandment of circumcision, the Rambam states: (Commentary on Mishnayos, Chulin conclusion of ch. 7) “We do not engage in circumcision because our father Avraham, of blessed memory, circumcised himself and his household, but rather because G-d commanded us through our teacher Moshe to circumcise ourselves.”

And where are these commandments?

For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. –Genesis 17:12

On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. –Leviticus 12:3

The Abrahamic covenant is “honed” and applied within the context of the Mosaic covenant, passing from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to the Children of Israel. Then passing to every Jew across history and to this very day.

But what does it mean besides being a sign of a Jew’s perpetual inheritance of the land of Israel?

Significantly, Avraham was given this name in connection with the mitzvah of circumcision. Circumcision an act which affects the most basic physical aspect of our being, demonstrates that our spiritual quest is not an attempt to escape worldly reality, but is rather an attempt to refine it. Circumcision represents a “covenant in the flesh,” and endows even our physical bodies with sanctity.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“A Journey To One’s True Self: Avraham’s Odyssey As A Lesson For His Descendants”
Commentary on Lech Lecha
Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. V, p. 57ff; Vol. XX, p. 59ff, p. 301ff;
Vol. XXV, p. 52; Sefer HaSichos 5750, p. 96ff.

We are all faced with a physical and spiritual journey in our lives that starts the day we are born and continues until our death. This journey begins and progresses whether we want it to or not. It exists regardless of our religious orientation or lack thereof. Atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Taoists, and Jews all walk upon the path of spirit as well as the path of life. No newborn infant can ask to proceed on a spiritual path nor can they refuse it. For a Jew it is the same with the unique sign of the covenant. An eight-day old boy cannot ask for nor refuse the Brit Milah. It is the mark of God separating him from the hoards of humanity and signaling that his spiritual journey is unique among the peoples of the earth. He is a Jew and things will be different for him than for the rest of us. It is not a matter of choice.

Abraham had a choice but in choosing, he also chose for his children, his grandchildren, for Isaac, for Jacob, for the twelve tribes, and for all Jews throughout the corridors of time. He chose for Jews today. And in spite of legal decisions made by men such as Yoram Kaniuk, a Jew can never become a “not-Jew”.

spiritual-journeyThe rest of us have a choice. People who convert to Judaism have a choice, and one of the reasons that Judaism is reluctant to convert others is that the converts, under persecution, can decide to renounce their Jewish identity. Not so the born Jew. The Christian who accepts Christ as Lord and Savior can, under duress or discouragement, choose to renounce Jesus, join another religious tradition, or enter into atheism, acknowledging no God except himself. There is no sign on our flesh marking us as set apart. The circumcision we undergo is on our hearts.

A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God. –Romans 2:28-29

But this is really confusing. Who is Paul talking about here?

Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live. –Deuteronomy 30:6

These aren’t the only examples of “circumcision of the heart” in the Tanakh (Old Testament)  and the Apostolic Scriptures and certainly not the only illustrations of such a circumcision applied to the Jews. So who is circumcised and what does it mean? Has “circumcision of the heart” replaced the Abrahamic and Mosaic commandments for physical circumcision?

Or does one symbolize the other?

The way I see it, the physical circumcision indelibly marks a Jew as a Jew beyond all undoing. However, not all Jewish individuals dedicate themselves to the service of God and in obedience to the mitzvot. You can’t decide to be or “un-be” a Jew (except if you’re a convert), but you can decide, as a Jew or a Gentile, to serve God or not to serve God. You can make a conscious decision to allow the circumcision of the heart. You don’t get to decide to be born or to start on the journey of spirit and life, but you can decide the specific paths to take between birth and death (and beyond).

Small plantThe uniqueness of the Jewish people in the Kingdom of God is beyond question. How we decide to serve God or to fail God is entirely up to us, as a Jew, Christian, or anyone else. In that, we are like Abraham. God tells us to go somewhere and to do something. How we answer God is up to us.

The Lord said to Abram, Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. Abram went forth as the Lord had commanded him. –Genesis 12:1,4

If the world did not need you and you did not need this world, you would never have come here. G-d does not cast His precious child into the pain of this journey without purpose.

You say you cannot see a reason. Why should it surprise you that a creature cannot fathom the plan of its Creator? Nevertheless, eventually the fruits of your labor will blossom for all to see.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Waiting for Fruition”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Good Shabbos.

10 thoughts on “Lech Lecha: Choices of the Heart”

  1. You are engaging in circular reasoning. You assume something and you build a whole doctrine on this assumption which proves nothing. Abraham was not Jewish. His household included members who were not his immediate family. The all were members of the “covenant community” before they were all circumcied. The act of circumcision did not make them Jews or covenant members. If circumcision is supposed to make someone a jew them millions of Muslims are jewish at age 13.

    Circumcision is the sign of the covenant, and since Gentile believers say that they are under the Abrahamic covenant, they still refuse to get circumcised.

    Have a good Shabbat my friend.

  2. I had a feeling that would come back to bite me, Dan. And yet Judaism at large considers Abraham “the first Jew”, even though the non-Hebrew members of his household were circumcised and even though Ishmael was circumcised. Of course, Isaac would have had both his sons circumcised but only Jacob, and not Esau, is considered a Jew. Beyond that, all of Jacob’s children are considered Jews regardless of who their mothers were. For me, the clue that connects circumcision and inheritance of the land to the Jews isn’t in Genesis but in Leviticus 12:3, where the commandment for the Brit Milah is specifically assigned to the Israelites. God associated the ritual circumcision with inheritance of the Land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the Biblical record is clear that only the descendants of that specific line (none of the other offspring or household, regardless of circumcision) will inherit. Otherwise, we’d have to concede the right of the Muslim Arabs to Israel as an equal inheritance with the Jews.

    Shabbat Shalom to you too, Dan.

  3. You said that Leviticus 12:3 was specifically assigned to the Israelites. I ask, are Gentiles also excluded from the 10 commandments? How about Lev. 18:22? Lev. 18:19? These were not specifically given to the Israelites? Pick and choose by “divine invitation” for Gentiles?

  4. Most authorities, both Christian and Jewish, would say that the Torah commandments were given to Israel and not to the whole world or even the Christian world. While Jesus applied a number of Torah commandments (i.e. feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and the prisoner, clothing the unclothed, befriending the stranger) to all of his disciples (Jewish and non-Jewish), I don’t see where physical circumcision is directly assigned to the Gentile believer. The prohibitions against worshiping idols and sexual immorality go back to Noah in Genesis 9, so we can’t say that it is the related Torah commandments are specifically binding on the non-Jew. Jesus also spoke against those practices as did Paul, so in that context, we can safely apply them to the Gentile disciple as well.

    However, none of that means we get to pick and choose which portions of Torah do and don’t apply to Christianity. I went through a study of the teachings of Christ in Matthew as they mapped to the Torah last year and determined that Jesus didn’t expect his non-Jewish disciples to obey all 613 commandments or even the majority of them based on what he taught.

    Dan, you’re taking this blog post and pulling it way out of its scope. Right now, I’m talking about two general areas. The first is Abraham, circumcision, Israel, and how that all connects through Isaac, Jacob, the Israelites and Moses to the Jewish people today. The second point is how circumcision isn’t voluntary for a Jewish boy (and the eight-day old boy has no say in the matter), but the “circumcision of our hearts” and the desire and will to obey God is a choice we all can make, Jew and Christian alike.

    I really don’t want to pull this conversation into “One Law” vs. “Bilateral Ecclesiology” or anything else like it, because that’s been hashed over many times before with no positive result. Also, the issue of “divine intervention” was never meant to become a theology. My own conceptualization of how I extend my observance to eating kosher-style and observing a Shabbat rest isn’t that I particularly think God invited me to do so. I make those decisions as a matter of personal conscious. I’m not commanded in these behaviors but I’m not restricted, either. I voluntarily choose to accept additional responsibilities in my life as a matter of personal devotion. Other people can make the same decisions but they do not have to.

    Maybe I’ll write a blog about it sometime.

  5. You don’t want to pushh the discussion a certain way, but this is exactly what you do. what is the difference between Gen. 9 and Gen. 17? You are the one who picks and chooses. You decided to accept certain things that Yeshua taught and reject other things. You say that “divine invitation” is not a theology, but you show your adherance to it by your whishy Woshy treatments of God’s commandments. Other people are reading these blogs, I hope they are checking it against Scriptures. Is it a wonder why Gentiles are flocking to MJ? Thay get to be Jews without doing Torah, what a deal……

    I do not mean to be harsh.

  6. “Is it a wonder why Gentiles are flocking to MJ? Thay get to be Jews without doing Torah, what a deal……”

    If gentiles in MJ they think they’re becoming think they’re becoming Jews, either by doing or not doing Torah, they are mistaken. If they think that by their faith in Messiah they have a portion in the Israelite covenant, and even if they choose to obey sign commandments of Torah like Sabbath or kashrut out of solidarity with the Jewish people (though Torah, Paul, and the apostles in Acts 15 never require this), they are correct and it is commendable. It’s that simple.

  7. Dan, it’s not I who is doing the choosing, it’s God. Look at Matthew 1:1-17. The genealogy from Abraham doesn’t include Ishmael nor the members of Abraham’s household. The inheritance is through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and down through the line of the Children of Israel and to the Messiah.

  8. Agreed, James. And it goes without saying that we all pick and choose. This will become clear to us on the Day of Judgment.

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