The Circumcision of Messiah

"In the Messianic Era, man’s natural inclination will be to choose the good." — Nachmanides

The innocense of childhood. The Master said, "…unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." –Mt. 18:3 (Image © Bigstock)

Nitzavim

Regular Shabbat Readings

Read / Listen to these Portions

  • Nitzavim (נצבים | Standing)
  • Torah: Deuteronomy 29:9-30:20
  • Haftarah: Isaiah 61:10-63:9
  • Gospel: John 12:41-50

Note: The regular readings are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the annual Torah Portion schedule for these special portions.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Deuteronomy 29:9 | The Terms of the Covenant
    • Deuteronomy 30:1 | Repentance and Forgiveness
    • Deuteronomy 30:11 | The Choice of Life and Death
  • Prophets
    • Isaiah 61:10 | God Favor
    • Isaiah 62:1 | Zion's Coming Salvation
    • Isaiah 63:1 | The LORD's Day of Vengeance
    • Isaiah 63:7 | The LORD's Mercy Remembered

Portion Summary

The name of the fifty-first reading from the Torah is Nitzavim (נצבים), which means "standing." The name is derived from the first verse of the portion in which Moses says, "You stand (nitzavim) today, all of you, before the LORD your God" (Deuteronomy 29:10). In this portion, Moses invites the entire assembly of Israel to take on the covenant. He warns them that if they sin, they will go into exile, but he also predicts that, in the future, they will repent and God will return them to the land of Israel. In some years, Nitzavim is read together with the subsequent Torah portion, Vayelech, on the same Sabbath.


As Moses described the final redemption to come, he told Israel that God will circumcise their hearts. He said, “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).

The metaphoric circumcision of the heart will enable us to completely fulfill the commandment of loving God. It will grant us life—even eternal life.

In the Scriptures, a circumcised heart refers to having a repentant heart, suppliant to the will of God. For example, in Deuteronomy 10:16, Moses commanded the people, “Circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer.”

The Prophet Jeremiah tells Israel to repent from evil deeds, saying, “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD and remove the foreskins of your heart” (Jeremiah 4:4). The Apostle Paul contrasts a circumcised proselyte who does not keep the commandments against an uncircumcised Gentile who does keep the commandments. He says that the latter demonstrates a circumcision “which is of the heart, by the Spirit” (Romans 2:29).

Jewish eschatology teaches that when Messiah comes, God will circumcise our hearts by removing the evil inclination. Messiah is the circumciser of hearts. Nachmanides explains as follows:

From creation, man has had the free choice to do righteousness or evil according to his will … In the Messianic Era, man’s natural inclination will be to choose the good, and the heart will not lust for that which is not appropriate. He will not have any desire for the forbidden whatsoever. And this is what is meant by the “circumcision” spoken of here, for lust (and material desires) are like foreskin for the heart. The circumcision of the heart is that the heart shall not lust [after the forbidden] and shall not desire [the forbidden]. At that time, human beings will return to the spiritual state they possessed before the sin of Adam, when he would by nature do that which is proper to do …

This is what the scripture means in Jeremiah 31:33, “… I will put My Torah within them and on their heart I will write it.” This refers to the abolition of the evil inclination and the hearts doing by nature that which is proper to do … similarly, Ezekiel states, “I will give you a new heart and put a new Spirit within you” (Ezekiel 36:26-27). The “new heart” refers to its new nature … (Nachmanides on Deuteronomy 30:6)

The prophecy from Ezekiel echoes the prophecies in Deuteronomy 30:1-6. Ezekiel describes how God will gather Israel together from the nations, purify them, circumcise their hearts, and enable them to keep the Torah:

For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land ...I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers. (Ezekiel 36:24-28)

The result of this circumcision of heart is obedience to God. Moses says that when God finally circumcises the heart of His people, they will “again obey the LORD, and observe all His commandments” (Deuteronomy 30:8). In other words, God is going to enable us to keep His Torah. He is going to set us free from sin and cause us to walk in righteousness. Keeping Torah is one of the promises of the Messianic Age.

Paul explains that we who have become partakers of Messiah have already begun to enter the new covenant and the circumcision of the heart. He calls it the “circumcision of Messiah” when he says, “In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Messiah” (Colossians 2:11).

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