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Tuesday
Jan222019

RESPECTING BOUNDARIES

CONNECTIONS

The Ten Commandments (or more correctly, the Ten Statements) are not just a collection of disparate laws. There is a thematic connection between the commandments/statements.

For example, the First Statement, “I am the G-d Your G-d…,” is clearly linked to the next statement: “Do not have any other g-ds in My presence…”

Likewise, the Third Statement about not bearing G-d’s name in vain follows from the Second Statement not to worship other g-ds, the ultimate expression of disrespect and betrayal of G-d. The Third Statement goes a step further, stating that we should not show disrespect to G-d by disrespecting His name by taking it in vain.

This Third statement is then followed by the Fourth Statement: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.” This suggests that one must actively show respect for G-d by remembering the Sabbath; the day that acknowledges G-d as our Creator.

The very word Shabbos is regarded as one of G-d’s names. There is a Chassidic tradition (See Minchas Shabbos # 242) not to say the word Shabbos in a place where G-d’s name may not be mentioned, such as in a bathhouse, shower, or bathroom!

The Fifth Statement, “Honor your father and mother,” continues the theme of honoring G-d. By honoring our parents, we vicariously honor G-d, He who has vested His role of Parent into, and shared it with, our physical parents. Moreover, the Talmud (Kiddushin 30b) states that by honoring our parents we are simultaneously honoring G-d, their Divine partner.

The question arises, how do we then connect the Fifth Statement to the Sixth Statement, “Do not commit murder?”

ESAU IS THE LINK

A 20th century Chassidic work, Tiferes Yaakov, provides an intriguing connection. When Jacob appropriated his father’s blessings, his brother Esau plotted to murder him. However, Esau said that he would wait for his father’s passing to carry out his murderous plan. From here we see that by honoring his father Esau refrained from committing murder.

We still have to understand the conceptual relationship between honoring parents and murder. While honoring his father prevented him from committing murder, the Statement to honor one’s parents is not restricted to murder. A person who has sincere respect for his parents will not commit other crimes as well. Why does the Torah specifically connect murder and honoring one’s parents?

HORIZONTAL CONNECTION

There is another way to connect the Ten Statements, and that is to view them horizontally. Parallel with the Statement to honor one’s father and mother on one tablet is the Statement “Do not covet” another’s property, etc., in the second tablet. What possible connection is there between honoring a parent and not coveting another’s property?

Rejection of coveting arises from our recognition that we each have his or her turf, given to us by G-d, to work with, refine, elevate and transform into a dwelling place for G-d, a process which will be fully realized in the Messianic Age.

When G-d sent a soul, a part of the Divine, into this world, His intention was that the soul integrate with and impact the body by refining and elevating it.

By extension, when a person acquires property, the objective is for the soul to affect that property; an extension of one’s body. The relationship of our soul to our material possessions, and our environment generally, thus is akin to the relationship of our body to our soul.

When we improperly try to appropriate property belonging to another, we undermine G-d’s Master Plan for the world. Under that Plan, every person is given the wherewithal to transform his or her assets into a dwelling for G-d. If one takes property that was not intended for him or her, it retards the entire process of making the world a dwelling place for G-d. As a result, the advent of the Messianic Age is retarded in its turn; this undermines the very reason for, and objective of, the creation of the world.

BREAKING OUT OF BOUNDARIES

One may raise an objection here to the notion that there must be boundaries between people. How does this notion of barriers reconcile with the many commandments in the Torah that require of us to invite, give and share with others? Aren’t those commandments a sign that the Torah wants us to erase borders between people and break out of our quotidian boundaries?

In truth, the only way we can observe commandments that require of us to give to others is if there is a point of demarcation between our turf and that of others. Only if we are proprietors of our own patch of Creation can we then transcend our boundaries and give to others or welcome others into our homes to enjoy our resources. An integral aspect of using our resources to realize their holy potential is achieved when we give and share those resources with others. If we have nothing of our own, there is nothing we can give others.

We can now understand one of the reasons Judaism has an aversion to communism. One of communism’s inherent flaws is that it denies private ownership of property, ostensibly for the greater good of society. Torah has the opposite viewpoint. It asserts that the greater good of society can only be served when individuals have legally obtained possessions and choose to use these possessions in a G-dly way by giving, sharing and inviting others to enjoy their own good fortune.

CHRONOLOGICAL BOUNDARIES

One may suggest that, just as there are geographic boundaries that must be respected, there are also chronologic borders. Honoring our parents is our way of respecting their seniority and their role as our progenitors, as distinct from our peers. Honoring parents is a fundamental motif of all the commandments in the Torah that require of us to respect people from an earlier timeframe, parents, teachers, senior citizens and authority figures.

Just as we must respect the fact that each of us occupies a different space and that we have a mission to refine and elevate that space, so too each generation has its special role and unique mission. By respecting our parents and elders, we acknowledge that there is something unique about the earlier generation that sets them apart from us, on the one hand, and on the other hand from whom we can learn and be inspired.

Indeed, respect for boundaries of time is the underlying rationale for the Fourth Statement, to remember the Sabbath. We must be mindful of variations of time because one reason for our soul’s entering into this world is to elevate all aspects of creation, including time. This means that we are bound to respect the integrity of every place, situation and time, because we have to elevate all of these aspects of creation.

To equate Shabbos with a weekday, a parent with a friend, a Synagogue with a house, Torah with a secular book, etc., undermines the very reason G-d thrust us into our particular space, time or situation.

MURDER AND HONORING PARENTS

We can now understand how honoring one’s parents can be connected to the prohibition against murder.

One may be tempted to ask a naïve question about the evil of murder. When a person takes a life, the soul leaves the mortal body and is no longer encumbered by the physical constraints of this world. Why is that a serious crime? Isn’t the soul better off divorced and liberated from the physical world?

The obvious answer is that, of course, to commit murder is to thwart G-d’s plan for the Creation of the world. He requires every soul’s descent into, and engagement with, the body and by extension, one’s possessions and environment.

Cultivating respect for parents is our way of respecting G-d’s creation of the different boundaries that facilitate the soul’s fulfillment of its mission, to bring the world to its ultimate state of perfection. Once we respect those boundaries, we will not think lightly of separating a soul from its body.

ESAU’S ANGER REVISITED

Let us return to Esau and his desire to wait on killing Jacob until after their father’s passing.

In Esau’s mind, Jacob violated the underlying ethos of the Tenth Statement, i.e., not to covet, because one must respect the boundaries between people. In Esau’s mind, Isaac’s blessings belonged to him. Esau’s deep respect for his parents demonstrated that he respected boundaries and therefore felt that Jacob violated them. His burning desire to kill Jacob intimated that if Jacob did not respect the sanctity of Esau’s role as the legitimate recipient of the blessings, Esau did not have to respect the legitimate role of Jacob’s soul inhabiting this world. If Jacob can undermine Esau’s mission, so Esau could undermine the mission of Jacob’s soul.

To underscore that he was more in touch with G-d’s plan to respect boundaries than Jacob, Esau decided to wait for their father’s death before killing Jacob.

IMPOVERISHING JACOB

We can now also better understand the explanation of our Sages that when Jacob fled, Esau dispatched his son Eliphaz to murder Jacob in his stead. Jacob pleaded with Eliphaz to spare his life and instead suggested that he should take all his possessions, rendering him a pauper, a state of being which is comparable to death.

By divesting himself of his possessions Jacob intimated that his soul was no longer able to engage the material world, his extended body. This would be comparable to the soul divesting itself from its host body.

Esau was obviously mistaken. Jacob was indeed the person for whom their father’s blessings were intended, for only he had the ability to engage the physical world and transform it into a dwelling place for G-d.

MODERN-DAY CHALLENGES

As we stand on the very threshold of the Final Redemption, when the Master Plan for the universe is about to become a palpable reality, it is crucial that we don’t lose sight of the boundaries that G-d created in our world. Boundaries amount to His challenge to bring the Divine into every aspect of creation.

It is no wonder that at this crucial juncture in time, we are witness to the greatest assault on the differences that G-d created. These differences must be respected in order to affect them. Precisely because we are so close to the grand finale of history, we are buffeted by the greatest challenges. By meeting these challenges, we will enter the Messianic Age with a true sense that we have achieved total victory over the forces that try to keep us locked in Galus, and grant us a powerful sense of fulfillment, a humbling sense that we have at last merited Moshiach.

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