Parashat Ki Tisa

Respecting Boundaries


Harav Israel Asulin

Translated by Moshe Neveloff

Monday, 13th of Adar I, 5776


This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa, opens with Hashem’s special request to Moshe Rabbeinu[1]: “When you take a census of the Children of Israel according to their numbers, every man shall give Hashem atonement for his soul when counting them, so that there will not be a plague among them… This shall they give- everyone who passes through the census- a half shekel of the sacred shekel… as a portion to Hashem.” (Exodus 30:12-13)  Hashem wants to count the children of Israel, but not by way of a regular counting, in order to keep away the evil eye; rather Hashem wants the count to be done in a secondary way through collecting from every person a half shekel and then counting the coins which have been gathered.

However, if counting the people is so dangerous, Rebbe Natan asks, why do they need to be counted at all?  What is the point of this count?  Behold Hashem knows his people and how many people there are!   What was so urgent in counting the Jewish people to the point that a secondary was was needed in order to do this?

“They were commanded to count them specifically, so that each one would be counted privately… so that they would not be mixed together, which would cause one person to enter the boundary of his friend… because even though all of the Jews are considered like one being- nevertheless, each and every Jew has his own limit and boundary by himself.  Every one’s opinion is different from his friends… and also each person serves Hashem according to his good character traits… and even though every Jew needs to receive from his friends’ good point, which is special to him… nevertheless it is forbidden to destroy the boundary… to enter his friends border, because sometimes even a good person can cause his friend to fall because of their differing opinions…” (Likutei Halachot, the Mincha prayer, 7th teaching)

It’s true that we are one people, like one person with one heart and one soul, and it’s also true that every Jew needs to receive from his friend from his special good point, and it’s true that there are in the world deep interpersonal relationships filled with closeness, but even so there needs to be a clear boundary which cannot be destroyed!

Every one of us is not only a part, he is also very much separate, with separate opinions, different traits, a special role, a specific way of serving Hashem, and in the same way that we are commanded to love friends, we are also commanded to respect a person’s boundaries and not to enter his space.

What does it mean ‘to enter the boundary of another person’?  What does it look like when people cross boundaries and enter the boundary of the other person?

When I’m controlling or I’m too dependent, this is called that I’ve broken a boundary and entered the space of someone else.  Because when I’m controlling or dependent I’m like someone who forces the person near me to behave in the way that I expect him to behave.

When a person controls someone else and makes him obey his opinion and his will, he causes tremendous damage!  Do you understand?  There is a pure soul here, with a specific mission, strengths and talents, and you move him from his path.  This soul needs to be an artist, what are you doing sending it to work in plumbing?  Have mercy!   Have mercy on this soul and upon its role which is waiting for it in vain by the paintbrushes.  Have mercy on it because instead of being in its place and carrying out its role, you are busy whipping imaginary horses that will continue to run on the paths you have drawn for him.

Okay, I understood that to control the other person is terrible, but what is the problem with the fact that I’m terribly dependent on somebody else?

Also when I enter the mold of being completely dependent on someone else I make him against his will play for me the role of a certain character, who will fulfill for me the expectations I have of him: be the mother for me that I didn’t have; be the father who I always wanted; and you, forget all together that you are my daughter, because we waited all these years for a son, so let’s see you be like a boy…

However, hello, I’m your wife, I’m not your mother!  We need to relate to each other as mutual partners, I need your support, I need you to be mature with me and not like a small child who’s looking for his mother!  Yes, we can have quiet time in the evenings and have a deep conversation relating to the small child who terribly misses his mother.  But right now we need to face the educational problem our child is having and the overdraft we have in the bank, you can’t disappear on me and put on a bib like a child, whose whole existence depends on his mother!

In a deep way, both control and dependence lead to exactly the same point, crossing the boundary of your friend or spouse!

Whether you control and force your wife or your children or your workers to think like you and submit to your desires or whether you are dependent upon her or him or them to the point of fear and you place upon them your expectations and your own feelings of neglect and neediness; in both of these cases you are crossing the line, you are entering a place which is not yours, you are making someone else behave according to what you dictate and not according to his internal will, you cross the boundary!  This crossing the boundary contains in it a lot of pain, anger and frustration, because “each and every Jew has a limit and boundary by himself” and “it is forbidden to destroy the boundary!” (Likutei Halachot, ibid)

So what can be done? Doesn’t ‘don’t be controlling and don’t be dependent’ mean in other words to be socially isolated?

No!  It’s possible to live a life of full, close and good interpersonal relationships, without control and without dependence!

You need to understand that blurring the boundaries between us happened in a hidden way, unconsciously and without bad intention; underneath the surface, like secret notes which were passed under the table, without anyone speaking about them out loud, everyone was forced to act according to them quietly.  Therefore, first I need to identify where I destroy my boundaries and those of someone else, which roles I place upon my wife and what expectations I burden upon my miserable children… and then, to place anew and in a clear way the roles and exact boundaries of each person in the family.  Here I’m a spouse, there I’m a child, and here I’m a parent.  There are times when I’m a friend, places where I’m a neighbor and times where I’m a worker or a boss…

These renewed boundaries in my connection with my wife, my children and with those who surround me will give me much more than what I obtained when I entered their boundary and acted dependent or controlling.  They will open for each of us a place of respect, which is defined and stands by itself.

[1] Our Rabbi, Our Teacher

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