Author's Note on Parshat Shoftim

Author's Note on Parshat Shoftim

Date: August 24, 2012
6 Elul 5772
I didn’t really have a Shabbat thought this week. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I did have one. I was going to write about the law in Parshat Shoftim that says “Lo Tasig G’vul Re’echa”; you must not move back the border of your fellow’s field. Rashi emphasized that if you move your neighbor’s border you are stealing. In particular, as Rashi explained, this law (Lo Tasig) applies inside the Land of Israel. (Outside the Land of Israel, moving your neighbor’s border is simple theft; inside the Land of Israel, it involves theft and a violation of this specific additional negative commandment.)

I was going to then explain that allegorically, some contemporary commentators (like Rabbi Eli Munk) allude to your neighbor’s border as something beyond the physical land grab. It also means not to interfere with the “space” between you and your neighbor. For example, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 52a) records a story of Nadav and Avihu (sons of Aaron) anticipating the day when they can take over after the “old men” (Moses and Aaron) were out of the way. Perhaps that was their way of “moving the border” and encroaching on leadership before their time and led to their early demise.

I was then going to extrapolate further. I was going to explain that we need to be mindful that when we force ourselves and our views on others without being sensitive to their space and where they are in life, we are “moving their border.” When we impose our ideas of religious “truth” we are moving the fence metaphorically speaking and making them live in our yard whether they like it or not.

I decided not to write about it because, well, everyone knows that we need to work things out. I’m sure we are tired of hearing about Tisha B’Av and overcoming baseless hatred which leads to the High Holy Days and time for repentance, etc. We know all this, don’t we?

Then, I read the latest issue of the Washington Jewish Week (our local Jewish newspaper). There, I saw a letter to the editor where the writer, presumably an “ORTHODOX” Jew, wrote with a terrible hatred for the members of another group of “ORTHODOX” Jews. Apparently, the letter writer’s brand of orthodoxy does not allow for clapping (rhythmic or otherwise) in synagogue on Shabbat. Neither does it approve of women wearing wigs instead of hats (I’m not sure about whether they are supposed to wear both a wig and a hat off the top of my head (pardon the pun).)

That made me re-read “Lo Tasig”. I was reminded of two things. First, we cannot force our borders and our boundaries on our neighbors. Every Jew must have the opportunity to grow and develop in his or her own way and at his or her own pace. Of course, we need proper guidance and teachers; but forcing others to live inside our boundaries just won’t work.

Second, look at what “Lo Tasig” does NOT say. The law prohibits me from unilaterally moving my neighbor’s boundaries in order to grab his space. But it does not say that I cannot expand my own boundaries by working together with my neighbor. In other words, if I want to talk to my neighbor, learn with my friend, or show others about another way to live, maybe we can both expand our “boundaries” and still retain our individual identities.

So I thought about it again and decided that maybe we do have something to think about.