I previously noted in my commentary to yesterday’s daf that those who are ערלים (uncircumcised) are not permitted by Torah law to consume certain sacred foods such as the Korban Pesach. As the Torah (Shemot 12:48) states: וְכָל עָרֵל לֹא יֹאכַל בּוֹ – ‘and whoever is uncircumcised may not eat of it’.
At the same time, the Torah also teaches us in Shemot 12:43 that כָּל בֶּן נֵכָר לֹא יֹאכַל בּוֹ – ‘and whoever is an outsider may not eat of it’ which, as the Mechilta interprets – while basing itself on Yechezkel 44:9 – to be referring to those who are apostates and idolaters who are כָּל בֶּן נֵכָר עֶרֶל לֵב – ‘outsiders who have uncircumcised hearts’.
Having explained this we can now turn to today’s daf (Yevamot 71a) which asks why both verses are needed? It answers by teaching us that had the Torah only taught us about the disqualification of eating the Korban Pesach by those who are physically uncircumcised, we may have thought that only someone who has not undergone the mitzvah of brit milah should be restricted from this sacred food, whereas someone who is an apostate or an idolater but who nevertheless has had a brit milah may be permitted to partake in it.
Paralleling this, had the Torah only taught us about the disqualification of eating the Korban Pesach by those who are apostates and idolaters (i.e. those who are of ‘uncircumcised hearts’), we may have thought that only someone who has deliberately rejected their faith and their God should be restricted from this sacred food, whereas someone who is merely physically uncircumcised but who, as the Gemara beautifully puts it, דלבו לשמים – ie. ‘whose heart is loyal to heaven’, should be permitted to do so.
What we see from this is that, at least when it comes to the Korban Pesach, both those who appear to be religiously loyal by having a brit milah but who have rejected God from their hearts, as well as those who are deeply loyal to God in their hearts but have not had a brit milah, are disqualified from eating the Korban Pesach – which teaches us that just being a Jew at heart is not enough, and similarly, just being a Jew in appearance is not enough.
Applying these principles – although, to be clear, not these specific laws – to the work that I do, while I rarely meet people who have deliberately rejected God from their hearts, I often meet people who – due to the underemphasis or total lack of reference to God, soul, faith and spirituality in their homes, schools and communities – have not fully let God into their hearts. And as I recently explained in a recent lecture, while much emphasis is placed in contemporary Orthodoxy on the exterior appearance, there is far less emphasis – at least in some communities – on ‘interiority’, which is a word that refers to the ‘penimiyut’ i.e. the inner spiritual qualities and yearnings of an individual. Given this I noted that: “I believe that the unspoken spiritual crisis facing our community is not one of appearance and visible practice where, as has been noted by various scholars, we have seen a ‘slide to the right’ towards greater observance, but rather, in terms of interior Jewish belief and faith.”
Yet the difference is that while our Gemara speaks about the ‘price’ of being an עֶרֶל לֵב in terms of not partaking in the Korban Pesach, we’ve yet to fully understand the ‘price’ to those – and the families of those – who are observant in appearance but who are confused about, or who feel a deficiency in, their interior Jewish belief and faith. And just as those who have vitamin deficiencies are encouraged to make lifestyle changes or to take supplements, I think that similar advice is appropriate to those who feel that they are undernourished in terms of matters of the soul.