By RABBI DR. RAYMOND APPLE
Justice comes in two senses in this sidra. There must be judicial officials – judges and officers in our gates (Deut. 16:18) – and their constant aim must be to pursue justice (Deut. 16:20). Why the Torah speaks of pursuing justice is because no human being – but only G[-]d – can be relied upon to achieve and exercise true justice.
Human judges can only try (as hard as possible) to reach the goal. They can never be completely certain that they have attained it, which is why they must say to themselves, "I think I did quite well on this occasion but I will try and do even better next time".
Washing your hands is central to self‑hygiene. In a different sense, washing the hands before meals has long been required by Judaism (Ex. 30:19 is the source of the practice). However, the Torah reading this week tells us that there are times when there is another type of hand‑washing which raises an ethical question.
When the elders see a dead body they declare, "Our hands did not shed this blood" (Deut. 21:7‑8). They say with the Psalmist, "I wash my hands in innocence" (Psalm 26:6). The commentators ask, who would have accused the elders of bloodshed?
The answer is that if anything untoward happens whilst the elders are in office they cannot have carried out their tasks properly. Unfortunately, in our generation there are leaders whose innocence is only purported and they can be suspected of corruption and selfishness. They are not always paragons of moral virtue with "clean hands and a pure heart".
If they weep that things have gone wrong in society, it is only crocodile tears.
MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS
It comes as a command, "You shall not remove your neighbour’s landmark" (Deut. 19:14), and as a curse, "Cursed be he who removes his neighbor’s landmark" (Deut. 27:17). In those days the boundaries around a person’s field were marked by a row of stones. It was easy for the person next door to shift the stones in order to annex extra land to his own property. Hence the Torah had to warn him sternly, "lo tassig g’vul re’acha" – "Do not move your neighbor’s landmark".
The problem must have arisen often in Biblical times; the warning is repeated by the prophet Hosea (5:1) and in the Book of Proverbs (22:28, 23:10). The Book of Job (24:2) identifies the main victims as the poor, the orphan and the widow; Isaiah (5:8) condemns the rich and greedy who "join house to house, field to field".
Though the law was originally meant to apply only to Israel, the sages were adamant that appropriating other people’s territory was unlawful wherever it happened (Bava Metzia 107b; Bava Batra 89a; Rambam, Hilchot G’nevah 7:11, 8:1‑3; Choshen Mishpat 376:1, 231:1).
"Hassagat g’vul", removing a landmark, came to have a much wider connotation as a general protection of the rights of others. It was applied to the rights of the poor to glean in the field and even to a scholar’s rights to his intellectual property and a printer’s rights to the works he publishes.
Despite the advantages of business competition, in time it became unlawful to infringe upon another’s means of livelihood, especially if the person concerned had special expertise and had invested considerable funds and effort in building up his business.
The halachic sources devote much attention to the question of a professional encroaching on another’s practice and endeavoring to attract his clients. A rabbi too must respect the rights of another rabbi. All in all, "hassagat g’vul" became a major ethical concept that said two things: mind your own business, and mind other people’s business from encroachment.
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Elul, 5780 - Tishrei, 5781 Sept.14 - Oct. 11, 2020 -- THE JEWISH OBSERVER, LOS ANGELES--642nd Web Ed.
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FOOD FOR THOUGHT
By RABBI STEVEN BERG
Dear Aish Family,
I have always chosen to address all of you as family because that is the way I feel about you. Aish is much more than an organization or a movement. We are a family that shares our joyous moments and sad ones too. When one of our Rabbis was tragically murdered all of you came together to support his family and students. As Jews we are bonded in a way that can only be described as “Mishpacha.”
Therefore I want to share a family celebration that took place this past week. A few years ago, Sam Rudin decided to take time off of work to explore his heritage by traveling to Israel on a Birthright trip. While in Israel, Sam’s heart was opened to Judaism in a passionate way. Seeing Sam’s interest, the trip leader, Rabbi Yehoshua Marchuck, suggested that he might enjoy studying at Aish HaTorah.
Fast forward a few years and Sam, who now goes by his Hebrew name Shmuel, has become one of the top students at our Yeshiva. I was honored to host Shmuel in my home for Passover a few years back and even was able to spend a holiday meal with his family. He truly is one of the kindest and most sincere Jews that I have ever met.
It was my honor to attend his wedding this past week. Orchestrating a wedding during COVID‑19 is not an easy task. Shmuel and Tamar Levine met in Jerusalem and had planned to be married there. Due to pandemic based circumstances they were married in New Jersey. Shmuel’s Rabbi from Aish, Rabbi Riber who now is living in Philadelphia, officiated at the ceremony.
It was truly one of the most special weddings I have ever attended. The joy in the air was palpable. My wife Rachel, who knew the bride as a counselor at the camp she ran, confirmed that Tamar was just as special as Shmuel. We all danced in joy the entire night. Aish Alumni came from all over to celebrate. The couple's parents were elated.
I could not help thinking about one special presence at that wedding. Without the Almighty guiding Shmuel to Aish, this amazing Jewish home would not have been built. The Almighty is constantly guiding us all to be better, to do better. That is frankly what makes us family. A Father in heaven who yearns for us all to be better every day.
I want to thank all of you for your constant support. For 45 years we have kept our doors open around the world physically and in cyberspace. Our sole mission is to make sure that every Jew has a chance to immerse in the Creator’s wisdom. No matter how limited a person's Judaic knowledge might be, Aish will always be there guiding everyone towards the beauty of Torah.
Rabbi Steven Burg, CEO, Aish Global