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(Deut 16:18 - 21:9)

D'varim/Deuteronomy 19:14   You shall not remove the boundary of your neighbour that was set by the ancients


The verb - a Hif'il prefix 2ms form from the root , to recede or depart - is here almost universally translated 'move' (NASB, NIV, NRSV, ESV, NJPS) and serves as an introduction to this seemingly obvious command which makes its first appearance in Moshe's review of the covenant on the plains of Moab with the generation who are about to enter the Land. Davidson reports this as a Explaining Terms ...

hapax legomenon: (pl. hapax legomena) a Greek phrase meaning "something said once"; a word that only occurs once either in a particular form or at all, in the Hebrew or Greek biblical texts, or in an author's work or a literary corpus
hapax legomenon in this form. Comparing it to the phrase - "they will withdraw to the rear" (Isaiah 42:17), "they have retreated backwards" (Jeremiah 38:22) - Who Is ...

Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105 CE), French rabbi who wrote commentaries on the Torah, the Prophets and the Talmud, lived in Troyes where he founded a yeshiva in 1067; focuses on the plain meaning (p'shat) of the text, although sometimes quite cryptic in his brevity
Rashi comments that this means, "he relocates a marker of division of land to the rear, into his fellow's field, in order to expand his own." Such an action is theft, prohibited by "Do not steal from, defraud or lie to each other ... Do not oppress or rob your neighbour" (Vayikra 19:11,13, CJB), but Rashi points out that if done in Eretz Yisrael, the perpetrator also breaks this command, since it is explicitly related to "your inheritance that you shall inherit, in the Land that Adonai your G-d is giving you to possess" (D'varim 19:14). Later on, when Moshe instructs the Levites to proclaim curses upon those committing certain offences, while the tribes stand on Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal to witness and respond, the Levites are to say: "'A curse on anyone who moves his neighbour's boundary marker.' All the people are to say 'Amen!'" (D'varim 27:17, CJB).

The Who Is ...

Ba'al HaTurim: Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher (1269-1343 CE), born in Cologne, Germany; lived for 40 years in and around Toledo, Spain; died en route to Israel; his commentary to the Chumash is based upon an abridgement of the Ramban, including Rashi, Rashbam and Ibn Ezra; it includes many references to gematria and textual novelties
Baal HaTurim suggests that this is an admonition to the court not to exchange one of the cities of refuge for another city. G-d placed and named the cities of refuge throughout the Land and it is not within the purview of the court to alter this assignment, which might result in unjust loss of life if someone fled to the wrong city, not knowing that the designation had been moved to another place. Tigay comments that through the ages halacha has expanded this prohibition to include unfair competition or even copyright violations. Instead of physical boundaries, the halacha has in view boundaries of business and ethics; stealing land, stealing customers and stealing intellectual property all deprive a man of the means to earn a living.

Other commentators are concerned about the authority issues involved. The Who Is ...

Ramban: Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman of Gerona or Nachmanides (1194-1270 CE), Spanish rabbi, author and physician; defended Judaism in the Christian debates in Barcelona before making aliyah
Ramban, for instance, points out that the boundaries were set originally by "Eleazar the Priest, and Joshua the son of Nun, and the princes of the tribes" so that anyone who moves a boundary - be that an individual illegally, or a court legally - is overturning the original assignation of the Land by lots before the L-rd. Not only would it challenge the authority of the ancients, but G-d Himself. Moreover, the Ramban asserts, it requires a certain arrogance or pride to think that one knows better that the authorities who made the original decision, or it is an act of envy or covetousness, thinking that one's neighbour has been given a better piece of land that one's own. Who Is ...

Hirsch: Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888 CE), German rabbi, author and educator; staunch opponent of the Reform movement in Germany and one of the fathers of Orthodox Judaism
Hirsch, just as bluntly, states that moving the boundary usurps G-d's rights and destroys the whole structure not only of the ancestral holdings, but the possession of the Land and even the times of the sabbatical year and the Jubilee. He writes, "the whole possession of land is impressed with the stamp of hereditary estate or entailed property held in fief from the overlordship of G-d, the One true goundlandlord, a fact, the recognition of which underlies the whole institution of the sabbatical years and the Jubilee." A rejection of one part implies a rejection of the whole and then Israel is not entitled to have any possession in the Land!

Boundaries are still an issue today. While the delineation of property boundaries are usually held and processed by government agency, disputes over trees, banks and streams still occur, resulting in court cases to examine and prove the documents and established usage patterns. Distressing and acrimonious though these can be, other boundary disputes are much more common, on a daily basis, and can often result in people taking serious offence at each other. These boundaries, often invisible, are usually closely guarded and tenaciously defended; highly personal in nature, they are to do with tastes and preferences, standards of modesty and behaviour, and define who a person is, how they see themselves and the position they hold in society or their peer group. Infractions involve as much hissing, spitting and barking as a clash between rival cats or dogs, and usually result in bragging on the victor's side and embarrassment or humiliation on that of the perceived loser.

People define boundaries in their lives such as not eating meat or being vegetarian, watching only Universal or General classification films, appropriate gender roles and separation for men and women, colours and styles of clothing - a whole host of things about which they feel strongly. Faith issues obviously feature significantly on this list, and acceptance in and by a faith community obviously places requirements upon people to match the boundaries of the community in question. One group is trying to move the boundary marker of another. As Messianic Jews, we frequently experience boundary negotiations with the church over our upholding of the obligations upon the Jewish people to observe the covenant G-d made with our people at Mt. Sinai, and with the synagogue over our belief in Yeshua as Messiah. Sadly, many communities are unable to accept those who do not fit their exacting boundary definitions; it is easier to enforce the boundary than to question whether the boundary is correctly defined. People are therefore excluded from meaningful fellowship and relationship within the body of Messiah; they are divided from and rejected by fellow believers, usually over non-salvation issues such as head-coverings, the style of music or the use of musical instruments in worship, the length of skirts and dresses, or versions of the Bible. These arguments have resulted in an arbitrary and unnecessary proliferation of churches and denominations, each clinging doggedly to their own doctrinal or practical distinctions.

This divisiveness is all the more surprising given Rav Sha'ul's clear rejoinders to the early believing communities. Writing to the church at Colossi, he said, "Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day" (Colossians 2:16, NIV). Frequently used as part of a case against Jews continuing to observe the customs and traditions of our people, this verse is actually neutral on the specific events; it tells Gentiles not to allow themselves to be condemned or to be made to feel guilty about not keeping the Jewish festivals - which are not required for Gentiles - while telling Jews not to be condemned or to be made to feel guilty when they do keep the Jewish festivals - which are for them to keep (cf. Romans 3:1-2 and 9:4-5). With regard to food, the community in Rome is told, "The one who eats anything must not look down on the one who abstains; and the abstainer must not pass judgment on the one who eats anything, because G-d has accepted him" (Romans 14:3, CJB); on days, "One person considers some days more holy than others, while someone else regards them as being all alike. What is important is for each to be fully convinced in his own mind" (v. 5, CJB). "Why," Sha'ul asks, "do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of G-d" (v. 10, NASB). He summarises his point: "Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way" (v. 13, NIV). Leave other peoples' boundary markers alone.

Does this mean that we should abandon our defence of the key principles of the faith: the divinity of Yeshua, the meaning of Yeshua's death on the stake, the truth of the resurrection, the covenants and promises of G-d, the power and gifts of the Ruach? No, not at all; we are urged to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3, NASB). But we must do so in love, determined to support and encourage one another even if we disagree on minor matters, remembering that what we have in common is much larger - and more significant - than what divides us. As Yeshua told the disciples when John reported that they had tried to stop someone who was not part of their immediate group casting out demons in Yeshua's name, "Do not hinder him, for there is no one who shall perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:39-40, NASB).

Further Study: Hosea 5:10; Proverbs 23:10-11; 1 Corinthians 8:11-13

Application: How could you be more welcoming and inclusive when speaking with other believers? Do you define your group by what you do do, or in terms of what you don't? Why not use today to be more positive and try to develop a relationship with someone who is not in your immediate circle.

© Jonathan Allen, 2009

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