One Man’s Treasure Is Another Man’s Degredation by Hillel Koslowe


Parashat Shofetim discusses the two very serious consequences of inadverdent murder and testifying falsley.In between these two topics, though, there is a seemingly less-severe prohibition. The Torah states, “Lo Tasig Gevul Rei’echa,” “You shall not remove your neighbor’s landmark” (Devarim 19:14). What does Nesigat Gevulim, extension of boundaries into your neighbor’s property, have to do with the topics of accidental murder and false witnesses?

 While looking at the case of inadvertent murder, it seems as if the murder isn’t such a grievous sin. The murderer must flee to an Ir Miklat, a city of refuge, so that the deceased’s relatives do not attempt to exact revenge against the murder. Despite this reality, murder, even accidentally, is an extremely serious offense. The fact that this murder causes anguish to the family members to the extent that the murderer must run away is proof of the gravity of this sin. The subsequent topic of false witnesses is also a very serious offense. On top of commanding us to execute this person, the Torah states, “VeLo Tachos Einecha,” “And your eye shall not pity” (Devarim 19:21). The connection between these cases is the severe effects it has on the people of Am Yisrael: A person who has to flee to one of the Arei Miklat has killed someone and has caused sorrow amongst the victim’s family, and a person who is a false witness obstructs justice and causes a disintegration of the communal court system. We can now understand exactly why extending our property’s border appears in between these two cases. The Torah is teaching us that we must realize that by extending our property’s border, we are not only stealing from our neighbor, but we are also causing them to lose money, and we are preventing that person from fulfilling Mitzvot Taluyot BaAretz, commandments which are bound to Eretz Yisrael.

 Within the topic of Arei Miklat, the Torah states that an intentional murderer who tries to flee to one of the Arei Miklat must be killed and should not be pitied. Why does the Torah need to state that we shouldn’t pity them? The reason is that not only is this person an intentional murderer, but they are also acting deceitfully. This echoes the overall theme of Nesigat Gevulim because when a person extends their boundaries into their neighbor’s land, they generally do so at night when no one is looking. When we do Aveirot in a sneaky manner, it shows that we fear people over Hashem. It is for this reason that this Aveirah appears in between two sections that are clearly very serious Aveirot.

 Another validation of the seriousness of the prohibition of Nesigat Gevulim being is the fact that the Torah later states, “Arur Masig Gevul Rei’eihu,” “Cursed be he who removes his neighbor’s landmark” (Devarim 27:17). Why is this specific prohibition deserving of being cursed? There are many other seemingly worse prohibitions whose violators are not cursed! The Lubavitcher Rebbe answers this by explaining, “If you want to make yourself greater than someone else, don’t put that person into a hole; rather, you should stand on a chair.” We see from this that there is nothing wrong with making yourself better. However, we cannot do this at the expense of others. By encroaching on the land of our neighbors, we are not only bettering ourselves, but we are also degrading our neighbor.

 Therefore, the prohibition of Nesigat Gevulim should not only be taken in its literal meaning, but in its looser meaning as well. Based on the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s explanation, it is clear that it also applies to stifling other people’s opportunities. When we are in group situations, we should be careful to allot equal time and opportunity to everybody. Although it might be tempting to call out in class or not pass the ball in basketball, by doing so, we are preventing our peers from excelling. This prohibition is situated between the prohibitions of Arei Miklat and Eid Sheker to highlight its importance and severity. Just as a person would never justify a murderer’s actions or a false witness’s actions, we should not justify the actions of somebody who deceitfully and degradingly extends their border into their neighbor’s land. Both in the literal and broad sense, when we violate this Mitzvah, we suppress our fellow’s potential. We must learn from the Torah’s placement of this Mitzvah that we should try our best not to “extend our borders into our neighbor’s land.”

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