“Living with the Right Boundaries” by Lauren Shaps


Hey to the Chevra,

A reporter in Australia writes that the annual bill to taxpayers for bullying and harassment in the public service is approaching 80 million Australian dollars (about US$58 million). In Pittsburgh, hundreds riot at a church carnival. Eleven municipalities in Mexico enact emergency measures where thousands of women have disappeared or been murdered in the past decade. And for those of us who grew up watching Bill Cosby, the beloved television dad, he now stands accused of rape by 46 women. A world that looked so promising struggles more and more with basic rules of respect for self and other. What are we missing? Where has our world gone wrong?

This week we read one of the most beautiful and inspiring parshiyotParashat V'Etchanan. It is a synopsis of many of the rich and meaningful messages given earlier in the Torah. It includes the Shema, the Ten Commandments and many reminders to observe the mitzvot(commandments). Sometimes we chafe against the idea of a Creator who has rules and expectations for how we live our lives. Yet increasingly we see the consequences of a world without rules.

What makes it confusing is that we see the other extreme in parts of the world where a thief has his hand cut off or a woman deemed improperly dressed has acid thrown in her face. The Torah and the debate and discourse by our greatest sages teach us that life is about what Maimonides (1135-1204) called "the golden mean."

In relationships, we often struggle to find the balance between chesed and gevurah (love and limits). With little kids, this may mean how firm am I about bedtimes, candy, TV and computers. Do I give in to avoid tantrums? Do I teach them not to throw food and to pick up their toys? As our kids get older, the balance becomes more complex. How much time do I expect my child to spend on homework or practicing piano? How much screen time is too much? Do my kids have chores, like making their beds or setting the table? How do they speak to others? How do they treat their siblings and friends? The kids get older and now there are more choices, more options, more arenas for conflict, more peer pressure. I remember when my almost-17-year-old wanted to drive two hours to Montreal to visit her friends before the end of the summer. My initial hesitation was not met with calm and equanimity. Does anything go to make them happy? Or at the other extreme, do we always respond with rules and rigidity?

Our kids become adults and the rules change again. We have spouses, friends, colleagues, neighbours and aging parents. Everywhere we turn, relationships require giving, but also self-definition. Where do I stand? What's my limit? How can I negotiate the different needs, wants and desires, maintain the relationship yet not give my self away in the process? How do those limits work, not just for me, but for us, for the benefit of our relationship?

Perhaps this week's parsha gives us some insight. It comes at the end of 40 years of building a relationship in the desert, a relationship, between the children of Israel and G-d, a relationship of ups and downs, tragedy and triumph. G-d took them out of Egypt, gave them the Torah, led them safely and securely through the dangers of the desert. The people have good days of recognition and appreciation and they have times of backsliding and regression. G-d tells us, "You are a holy people to Hashem your G-d. Hashem, your G-d, has chosen you to be for Him a treasured people above all the peoples on the face of the earth. Not because you are more numerous than all the peoples did Hashem desire you and choose you, for you are the fewest of all peoples. Rather because of Hashem's love for you." (Deuteronomy 7: 6-8)

Why did G-d give us so many commandments and why does G-d hold us accountable when we ignore His will? G-d explains why: It's because of His love for us. Where does that love come from? Not because we are big or powerful or many but because we are holy. What does it mean to be holy? Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto (1707-1746) explains that "holiness is the ability to distinguish and choose between right and wrong, the good and the bad, the true and the false." It is so much easier to see things in terms of extremes, black and white or, as Lori would say, "all or nothing." We live in a complex world. The Torah gives us the tools to navigate through the grey, to distinguish, to make good choices. When we emulate our Creator, we understand there is a balance. Just as G-d loves us unconditionally, we too reach out with love for others. Just as G-d believes that we can be an am segulah (a treasured nation), a special people, a holy people and therefore He holds us accountable, we too can relate to others with a healthy sense of limits, boundaries, rules and expectations.

It's like the ripple in the lake when you cast a stone in the water. Tikkun Atzmi (we fix ourselves), and slowly but surely, we move to Tikkun Olam (to repair the world).

Shabbat Shalom,



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