The Human Body Code

The imagery of the Bible hints at the luminous potentiality of our bodies to experience God.

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Understanding Circumcision

The metaphor that calls for a naked heart may help us to understand a deeper reason for the mysterious--and frankly disturbing--ritual of b'rit milah (circumcision). Native American and Mayan beliefs align with Kabbalah in understanding the left side of the body as feminine and the right as masculine. Since the heart rests on the left side, circumcising the heart brings feminine energies into play. Would the addition of a circumcised heart bring into a balance the masculine and feminine energies? Perhaps the metaphor found in parashat Eikev hints that the purpose of the ritual is to remind both men and women to keep the heart tender, for this is not only a woman's quality.

The circumcised heart is not gender specific. All of us are called to bring forth creative and nurturing energy within ourselves and to act with an empathic heart. Some say that the reason girls do not have an equivalent physical ritual to b'rit milah is that they are born circumcised, the implication being that they are born with unveiled hearts. B'rit milah, then, becomes a spiritual catch-up for boys to approach the openhearted potential of girls.

Being a mother of sons, I have trouble with this explanation, yet we know that women walk through the world with circumcised hearts by their very place in many cultures. They reveal themselves because they often have less power and therefore less to lose. When we think of the hardened, calloused heel that feels little under it, experience shows that women do not have the luxury of stepping without looking carefully. Every misstep becomes a reason for others to keep us back; it becomes an accusation of our iniquity or incompetence.

Rabbi David Mark sees b'rit milah in a broadened mythic context when he compares the phallus to the ancient symbol that the Greeks called ouroboros, the mystical snake that rolls through eternity with its tail in its mouth. He asserts that removing the foreskin from the phallus is like when the snake-a symbol of eternal life-sheds its skin. As a result, through the act of b'rit milah, we incorporate God's promise of eternal life for the Jewish people directly into the male organ of reproduction. When applied to parashat Eikev, this interpretation helps us to see that a circumcised heart, possible for all of us, allows for growth and expansion, and provides a model for sloughing off gratuitous, constraining defenses.

Torah gives us a language that speaks beyond the physical world and gender. Both women and men embody God in their ordinary lived experience. Just as when we are in danger or despair we reach for another person to lift us up, so we understand that God is reaching for us with an outstretched arm to free us from slavery. In our female and male bodies we find God, and in this discovery we know ourselves to be more than physical beings. All of us are called upon to be creative, transparent, and loving before God.

The product of fourteen years of work and the contributions of more than 100 scholars, theologians, poets, and rabbis—all of them women—The Torah: A Women’s Commentary is a landmark achievement in biblical scholarship and an essential resource for the study of the Bible. For more information or to order a copy, visit URJBooksandMusic.com.

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Ordained in 1998 from the Academy for Jewish Religion, a transdenominational seminary, Malka Drucker is also the founding rabbi of HaMakom: The Place for Passionate and Progressive Judaism, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.