Parashat Shoftim

A Home Of Our Own: From Soweto To The Suburbs

The prohibition against encroaching on your neighbor's land teaches us that our own expansion and success must not compromise the success of others.

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Rabbi Huna is interested also in protecting boundaries and warning a business owner of encroaching on the territory of another. The Talmud sides with the less restrictive opinion of Rabbi Huna ben Joshua. However, many later authorities argue that in cases of ruinous competition, the law is like the more protective opinion of Rabbi Huna.

These different texts present two fundamental Jewish principles on owning a home and property. Expanding your territory can not come at the expense of another. Yet these texts also seem to respect and even honor an individual's right to have a home.

The prophet Micah goes even further. Having one's own place is the greatest of blessings. In describing his vision for the utopian end of days, Micah proclaims;

"And they shall beat their swords into plow-shares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nations shall not take up sword against nations; they shall never again know war; but every man shall sit under his grapevine or fig tree with no one to disturb him."

Essential to creating this redeemed world, argues Micah, is each person having their own grapevine or fig tree. Utopia is not the anarchists' dream of property-less society. Rather it is a world in which each person has their own special place where they can not be disturbed.

Perhaps on a deeper level, Micah is teaching something else also. In an unredeemed world, there are still opportunities for tasting what that better world can one day be. Having one's own home is such a taste of redemption. The more a person's home protects them from the disturbances of the outside world, the greater the taste.

Micah tells us that my home and the humblest of new homes being built in Soweto both provide the taste of that redemption. However, for me, the dissonance between the world inside my home and the world without is so much greater. For all of us for whom this is true, the obligation to work for that redeemed world, with the blessings of safety and home for all, is also much greater.

The beauty of your new home, teaches the prophet Micah, must not only give you the comfort you deserve; it also must compel you to go back out into the world and see that all of its inhabitants can one day share this joy under their own grapevine and fig tree.

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Rabbi Phil Miller

Rabbi Phil Miller is the vice president of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore. He attended Yeshiva University in New York City and previously was the director of the 92nd Street Y Bronfman Center for Jewish Life.