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Friday, 18 June 2021
Boundaries

"And Edom said to him, 'You shall not pass through me, lest I come out with a sword to meet you.'" (B'midbar 20:18)

We should notice that the 'I' and 'you' in the verse are both singular throughout. This could be simply a matter of protocol as if one nation is talking to another nation, but the Jewish commentators do not think this is the case. While Thomas Dozeman seems to be quite happy that "both nations are represented by individuals, recalling the ancestral stories of Jacob and Esau, in which the nations of Israel and Edom are presented by persons," Jacob Milgrom points to the same historical background to suggest that "Edom takes vengeance on Israel for what Jacob did to Esau." Rashi's interpretation is quite tart: "You pride yourselves with the voice your forefather bequeathed you and say, 'We cried out to HaShem and He heard our voice,' and I go forth against you with that which my forefather bequeathed me, 'By your sword you shall live' (B'resheet 27:40)." Dennis Olson proposes that this encounter "between Edom and Israel is a reverse replay of the last time Jacob and Esau encountered each other (B'resheet 32-33). In that encounter ... [although reconciliation appears to occur] ... when Esau offers to join forces with Jacob, Jacob refuses and insists that the brothers should go the separate ways (33:4-17). Now, Edom refuses to negotiate with Jacob for anything and insists that they go their separate ways."

Yeshua set boundaries in His ministry. The gospels record that He was wildly popular and "great crowds gathered to hear Him and to be healed of their infirmities. But He would withdraw to desolate places and pray" (Luke 5:15-16, ESV); He was not always available and insisted on down-time for quiet and prayer. He refused to be used for the purposes or agendas of others: "Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Yeshua withdrew again to the mountain by Himself" (John 6:15, ESV). At Nazareth, "He did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief" (Matthew 13:58, ESV); they denied who He was, so it was inappropriate to expect miracles. He encouraged others to set their own boundaries - "when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret" (6:6, ESV) - and to refuse to be pushed into saying something foolish: "Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'" (5:37, ESV).

As disciples of Yeshua, we find tension between Yeshua's command to "love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12) and His affirmation of the second commandment: "Love your neighbour as yourself" (Matthew 22:39). We cannot do one without the other; if we do not love ourselves - take care of ourselves, provide sensibly for our own food, clothing, time, study, leisure - then we cannot love others; we cannot give from a position of deficit. We are used to hearing the verses "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Philippians 2:3-4, ESV), tempting us always to accede to the requests or demands of others, even if unreasonable, on the grounds that loving and serving others is good, while loving ourselves is selfish. Notice, however, that Rav Sha'ul balances the interests of others with our own interests; both must be safeguarded and that means setting and enforcing boundaries to protect ourselves, our identities, our faith and our sanity! The text "G-d loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7) is frequently used to exploit financial boundaries and oblige people to give more than they can afford or want to give, but how are we to be cheerful if we ignore the first part of the verse: "Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion" (ESV). This applies to every area of life: G-d doesn't want His people to be used or coerced.

This is an excerpt taken from the weekly drash for Hukkat week.

Posted By Jonathan Allen, 10:00am Comment Comments: 0