The Torah in Parashat Shoftim (19:14) introduces the prohibition of “hasagat gevul,” infringing upon another person’s territory, commanding, “Do not move your fellow’s boundary set by those of earlier times.” Rashi explains that although stealing a neighbor’s property falls under the general prohibition of theft, such that an additional warning might seem superfluous, the Torah here speaks of moving a boundary marker in Eretz Yisrael, where seizing a neighbor’s territory thus violates two Biblical transgressions.
An intriguing Chassidic reading of this verse is offered by Rav Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudilkov (grandson of the Ba’al Shem Tov), in his Degel Machaneh Efrayim. He writes that the “fellow” mentioned in this verse can actually refer to the Almighty Himself. The “rishonim” (“those of earlier times”), the Degel Machaneh Efrayim explains, are the saintly patriarchs, who extended God’s boundary, so-to-speak, by bringing the Shekhina down into this world. Through their piety and their efforts to spread the belief in God, they effectively brought God into our world, whereas previously He was confined, as it were, to the heavens, as people were unaware or not mindful of His existence. The Torah here warns us not the push the boundary back away from this earth through our improper conduct. Our righteous predecessors worked tirelessly to bring the Shekhina into our world, and it is our responsibility to ensure that it remains in our world.
The message of this Chassidic insight is that the entire world, and our entire lives, are within God’s “rightful boundaries,” so-to-speak. He belongs everywhere in our lives, and not only in specific settings or contexts. Sometimes, we might make the mistake of moving the “boundary” away from certain areas of life – such as our social lives, our family lives, our professional lives, or our recreational activities. We might think that we can restrict religion to some areas and settings but not others. The Degel Machaneh Efrayim teaches us that doing so infringes upon God’s territory, as though moving the boundary line into our neighbor’s property to unlawfully expand our own property. We must acknowledge God’s authority over, and the Torah’s relevance to, each and every area of our lives, whether it’s in the synagogue, the home, the workplace or a leisurely trip, and we must never try to keep the Almighty away from any piece of His rightful “territory” in our world.