Real Cardiac Jews
Have you heard about the new movement in Judaism? It's not Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox, or even Reconstructionist or Renewal. It's "cardiac Jews." You know - "I'm Jewish in my heart." While we usually think of this as a kind of abdication, meaning "I'm Jewish in my heart but I don't do anything about it in my actual life," there is one sense in which being a cardiac Jew can have real meaning.
In the middle of our weekly Torah portion of Ekev a great question is asked: "What does the Lord your God ask of you? "That you have awe of the Lord your God, and walk in all of God's ways and love God, and serve the Lord your God with
all your heart and all your soul." But it then follows this wonderful spiritual and moral instruction with a puzzling passage in which it tells us to do something physically impossible. We are commanded to "circumcise the foreskin of our hearts." This is a new kind ofberit milah, and one that smacks of flat-out self-murder.
Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Ekev 5776
Benefit of the Doubt
We celebrate the new month of Elul on this Shabbat with Rosh Chodesh Saturday and Sunday, the beginning of the last month of the Jewish year. It's the time of year for us to think about the state of our relationships, to prepare to do a cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of the state of our souls, to reflect on where we are in our lives, where we've been, and where we are headed.
The opening lines of this week's parsha, Re'ei, are famously about choice. In that passage Moses says to us, the people,
Re'ei, anochi noten lifneichem hayom bracha u'klalla.
Et habracha asher tishm'u el-mitzvot Adonai Eloheichem asher anochi m'tzaveh etchem hayom.
V'haklallah im-lo tishm'u el-mitzvot Adonai Eloheichem…
“See, I give you today a blessing and a curse.
The blessing, if you listen to the mitzvot of your God that I command you today.
And the curse if you don't obey or listen.”
On the surface, this seems like a simple restatement of the central message repeated all through Devarim: if you do good, you will be blessed; if you do evil, you will be cursed. This Deuteronomic covenant lies at the heart of the Torah’s understanding of ethics.
But commentator Nechama Liebowitz points out that these are not really two parallel “if’s” here, “blessing IF you listen, curse IF you do not," though most translations hide that. The Torah uses two different words: it reads "et habracha ASHER tishm'u", "v'haklalla IM-lo tishm'u". That is, the blessing, because you listen, and the curse, if you do not.
Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk on Re’ei 5776