Word for the Week ... [Parsha Shoftim]
Rabbi Simche Sherer

Many countries have legislation dealing with unfair competition and monopolies. The term used in halacha to describe these offenses is hasogas 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 Parsha:

You shall not move the boundary of your fellow, which the early ones marked out (Devarim 19:14).

This simply means that you mustn't move the markers, pegs or any other landmarks that are employed to demarcate the boundaries between 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 often 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, 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.

A Jewish girl joined the Peace Corps and went to do humanitarian work in Africa. After a two-year stint, she returned to her home in the Bronx. She rings the bell and her mother is shocked to see standing next to her a boyfriend she brought back from Africa. He's not just any boyfriend. He is a big, black, 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! Meshuggeneh! I said a rich doctor!"

Perhaps this story is an exaggeration but similar ones occur daily.

Ma, I'm in love!  What difference does it make what religion he is? He's a great guy and we are both 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 than the parents already have. So they don't actually answer the question of where they 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 are blurred. Children, in particular, need clear, solid lines to understand the boundaries, the do's and don'ts of living correct and meaningful Jewish lives. G-d provided us with 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 Shabbes, 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 obfuscated and the young become confused. And then they wonder why we are suddenly putting up barriers that we ourselves previously took down.

A Rabbinical friend once asked a prominent businessman why he, a nice Jewish boy, was marrying out of the faith. Couldn't he have found a nice Jewish girl? The fellow answered in all honesty, "Rabbi, I just don't mix in those circles anymore." But had this entrepreneur retained the landmark of a kosher home, for example, he would have still been mixing in kosher circles. 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 well discover our own distinctiveness and our children may find out who they really are.