By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
“You shall not move the boundary of your fellow.”
Many countries have legislation dealing with unfair competition and monopolies. The term used in halachah to describe these offenses is hasagas gvul. Literally, the phrase means moving the markers that serve as the boundaries between neighboring properties. The scriptural source is found in this week’s parashah. “You shall not move the boundary of your fellow, which the early ones marked out.” On a simple level, it means that you mustn’t move the markers, pegs, or any other landmarks that were employed to demarcate the boundaries between neighbors’ properties. To go in the night and move the landmarks to take some of your neighbor’s land for yourself thus carries an additional prohibition over and above the normal laws against theft.
Let’s spend a moment, though, looking at some of the boundaries and borders of Jewish life. We, too, have neighbors. Some are friends and some are foreign. Many of us live in communities beyond the ghetto. Many are exposed to cultures, lifestyles, and business environments that are very different from our own. How is a Jew, surrounded by a sea of neighbors who are nice, friendly people but who are, culturally, very different, still able to retain his or her Jewish distinctiveness?
The answer is that we need landmarks. We, too, require boundaries and borders to help us draw the lines between being good neighbors and sociable colleagues, and losing our own traditions. Otherwise, we become the same as everyone else on the block or at work. When we try hard to be “normal,” we run the risk of losing our own uniqueness in the process.
An American Jewish girl joined the Peace Corps and went to do humanitarian work in Africa. After a two-year stint, she returned home to the Bronx. She rings the bell and her mother is shocked to see standing next to her a boyfriend she brought back from Africa. And he’s not just any boyfriend. He is a big, burly Zulu warrior with bald head, loincloth, beads around his neck, a spear, and a shield. And to top it off, he’s carrying a bag of bones in his pouch. The Jewish mother stands there stunned and speechless. Finally, she recovers somewhat and shouts at her daughter, “Idiot! I said a rich doctor!”
Maybe this story is an exaggeration, but similar ones are happening daily: Ma, I’m in love! What difference does it make what religion he is? He’s a great guy and we are very happy together. So, what’s the problem?
Dad, all the Jewish girls I meet are spoiled princesses. I finally found someone who cares about me. Please don’t stand in the way of my happiness.
And Jewish parents are visiting their rabbis and asking, “Rabbi, where did we go wrong? How can this be happening to us?”
Well, rabbis are also nice guys and aren’t looking to cause any more pain and anguish to these distraught parents. So they don’t actually answer the question of where the parents went wrong. But if they did, it might go something like this: The Torah teaches us not to move the markers. Losing everything begins by losing a little bit at a time. When we move the landmarks of Jewish life, slowly and inexorably we lose our borders and the lines become blurred. Children, in particular, need clear, solid lines to understand the boundaries, the dos and don’ts of living correct and meaningful Jewish lives. G‑d gave us certain landmarks to help us see who we are and where and how we live. When we remove those landmarks, we lose our borders and we lose our distinctiveness.
Long ago, G‑d gave us a Shabbos, a day on which the Jew behaves very differently from his neighbors. He gave us kashrus so that we eat differently, too. And He urges us to educate our children Jewishly so that they will understand, feel, and know why they really are distinctive.
But if we move those markers, things become hazy and young people become confused. And then they wonder why we are suddenly putting up barriers that we ourselves previously took down. By preserving our landmarks, we preserve our identity.
Let’s try to find some of those missing markers in Jewish life. Who knows? We may discover our own distinctiveness, and it may help our children find out who they really are. v
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at www.ktav.com.