An interesting mitzvah about boundaries appears in this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim. “You shall not remove your neighbor’s landmark” (Deuteronomy 19:14). The Hebrew term is “hasagat gevul,” crossing a boundary. In other words, do not encroach on another’s property.
This mitzvah (commandment) can be applied to our own personal relationships. We must respect others’ boundaries (“your neighbor’s landmark”). Many of us have difficulty understanding when it might be appropriate to “bud in” and when we must “keep out”! To maintain healthy relationships and to avoid resentment, we must strive to maintain a healthy distance, while also continually supporting, our loved ones.
Our sages also understood this in a plain, economic sense. Who might encroach on the boundaries of another? It is typically the financially strong who feel empowered to take advantage of the weak, encroaching on their property, diminishing their rights. When the strong wield their power in this way, they are exploiting the vulnerable. This is a serious transgression, for so much of Torah’s ethical laws seek to protect the vulnerable: the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and so on.
Sometimes we do not even realize when we are engaging in hasagat gevul. It is important to be aware of how our behavior – really, in every aspect of our lives – might diminish others in order to create a more just society and in order to nurture more peaceful relationships.
Rabbi Jeffrey Weill