You might think that difficult times make us likely to ask God for help. If so, religion would be a thriving business today. Perhaps Judaism offers an alternative response to crisis. Instead of reaching toward God, we might have to start within ourselves when we are frightened or challenged.
In my lifetime, I’ve ducked and covered in response to the Cold War, become vigilant looking for terrorists and hijackers, and masked up to prevent infection. Yet, I feel ineffectual thinking I can’t do much to have a real impact on any of these many existential crises.
As a rabbi I could say that prayer is always available to us. For centuries, religions taught us to seek God in times of despair. After decades of existential threats, I am uncertain if seeking God is sufficient in challenging times.
Torah, at Parshat Eikev, teaches that there is something else we can do. The work to repair world starts in us. At the end of a 40 year wilderness journey, Moses gives this advice to the Hebrews: circumcise your hearts! This may seem an odd use of circumcision as metaphor but one that ultimately makes sense. I can’t change the world, but I can change me. I can peel away the emotional scar layers that obstruct my better nature. Let’s call it a spiritual open heart surgery.
What is the emotional peel we need? Here are a few suggestions.
Set aside being judgmental. Put away jealousies. Undo your sense of superiority. Peel away these layers that separate you from others. With a circumcised heart, you are better equipped to improve the world. No, you won’t influence Vladimir Putin or end the coronavirus. You will help to create a progressive society and contribute to the faith we need to overcome challenges.
When I’m feeling fear or dread, the repair is to circumcise my heart. In removing the layers of emotional plaque on my heart, I can be open to possibilities. I won’t end the arms race or cure Covid. I can cut away the callousness and ego that poisons the world. My circumcised heart is prepared to improve the world one relationship at a time.
Rabbi Evan J. Krame