Pasrshat Shoftim

Parshat Shoftim deals at length with the creation of the judicial system and settling disputes and many other topics such as the appointment of a King. In Chapter 17 Moshe talks of the crime of murder and the refuge cities for accidental murder, the need for at least two witnesses to a crime, and “an eye for an eye.” However, between these topics Moshe places the following sentence “Thou shall not move your neighbour’s boundaries (in Hebrew – lo tasig gevul leraecha), which were set out at the beginning, in the land that you received as an inheritance, in the land that Hashem gave you to possess.” In simple terms this refers to the fact that if you own a property or piece of land you should not try to move the boundaries and encroach or steal part of your neighbour’s land. This would seem perhaps obvious and goes without saying, but clearly is important enough to be put down in writing.

Rashi, based on the Midrash Sifri, explains that taking your neighbour’s land fits clearly under the commandment of thou shall not steal. However, here the Torah adds the fact that we are talking of the family inheritance in the Land of Israel and in this case, this is a doubly serious crime.

The Ramban notes that Moshe specifically says “which were set out at the beginning,” and finds a deeper message. The actual parceling of the land is described in the book of Joshua and was divided up by Joshua and Eliezer the High Priest in accordance with Hashem’s plan. This division both at the level of the tribes and the individual families, is holy and must not be changed.

The Ibn Ezra says, this prohibition is obvious, just as the King Solomon tells us in the Proverbs “do not remove the ancient boundaries, that your fathers have set.” He then notes the juxtaposition to the discussions of damages and murder and warns how seemingly small disputes over territory can lead to dangerous situations and even murder. Unfortunately, we see this too often in society and even though we are possibly not aware of the full details, we saw this recently in a murder resulting from an argument over a parking space.

Rav B H Epstein in the Torah Temima explains that the concept of “lo tasig gevul” has been adapted by our sages to any situation of bordering on someone else’s livelihood, craftmanship and more. In his opinion this needs to be taken more seriously and he and others note how important it is to quote Rabbinical sources, particularly when publishing a learned text (I would think this applies to online virtual texts as well).The Midrash actual notes how one should be careful not to muddle one’s sources and quote Rabbi Yehoshua as Rabbi Eliezer or Rabbi Eliezer as Rabbi Yehoshua. The concept of “hasagat gevul” is, as I understand, an important one in modern Israeli law.

I am sure many of us have come across copying of work, particularly today in the world of the Internet where there is so much information online. I have sometimes found that slides that I have prepared for teaching turn up in other people’s presentations, but In a way, I am pleased that knowledge is being shared. My brother David who is an expert astronomer, discovered many years ago, that several of his astronomical lenses were radioactive. He published a paper in the Astronomical Journal, on the dangers of radio activity in specialized equipment. Years later he found that someone had received their doctorate based on his paper and copying his research, these days they call that plagiarism. I try if I can, to quote my sources but anyway I am quite happy for anyone to quote my thoughts at the shabbat table, anyway they are usually based on ideas discussed by our sages.

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