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Friday, 13 August, 2021 - 8:00 am

 In a temple in Toronto there once was a president of the community who was a nice man but Jewishly, well, he was ritually challenged. On Rosh HaShanah the gabbai offered him an aliyah; panicked, he said "No no no! I can't read Hebrew, I'll embarrass myself."

The gabbai said: "you HAVE to take some honor, you're the president!"
"Isn't there anything where I don't have to talk?"
The Gabbai thought for a minute and suggested "how about glila?"
"What's glila?" said the president?

"Simple," replied the gabbai, "you just come up after the Torah is lifted, and when the cover is put on, you put on the breastplate and the crown and then sit down."

Relieved, the president accepted the honor.

And so, right after the Torah was lifted, the president came up, put on the breastplate and the crown, and went back to his seat.

The gabbai came running over and exclaimed: "NOT ON YOU, on the TORAH, on the TORAH!"

This week’s Torah portion Shoftim deals with what is known is Torah law as or "moving the boundary markers".

The literal meaning of this law is that one must not move the markers or any other landmarks that are used to define the boundaries between neighbors' properties. To go in the middle of the night and move the landmarks, or to take some of your neighbor's land for yourself, carries an additional prohibition over and above the normal laws against theft. I must not infringe on your property; I must honor your boundaries and not try to “move them.”

This law, moving the boundaries, gave rise to a whole slew of laws dealing with market competition.

Although the Torah generally supports the free market economy, allowing for competition, creativity and entrepreneurship, the question does become what happens when I open a business that truly “infringes on your property,” meaning it directly takes away your business to the point that you cannot earn what you need to live, is it permitted?

The Talmud discusses two scenarios. You are a fisherman and you use a lake to fish. I come by and spread out my net right near your net. Is that permitted?
Or you own a mill in an alleyway where people pass, and people pay me to grind their grain, may I come and open a mill in the same alleyway?

This is how the question was raised 1800 years ago.
Generally, the consensus among most halachic authorities is that competition is fine, as long as the competitor will not cause the other personal financial ruin.
Rav Moshe Feinstein rules in accordance with the Chatam Sofer that one may not open a business if it will destroy someone else's livelihood. Rav Moshe rules that a loss of livelihood is not defined by a loss of one's home or his ability to put food on the table. Instead, he claims, taking away one's ability to afford as much as the average person in his socioeconomic class constitutes destroying his livelihood.

An interesting case in point was a story in the 16th century. The Chief Rabbi of Cracow,  known as the Rama, adjudicated a dispute between two Italian publishers who both printed editions of the Rambam's Mishneh Torah. The one who published it first objected to the existence of a rival edition of the Mishneh Torah. The Rama rules against the second publisher, reasoning that all authorities of Jewish law forbid opening a store if it will clearly ruin the original entrepreneur's business. The Rama thus concludes that the second publisher should not be patronized, as he was unfairly ruining the original publisher's livelihood. Only after he finished selling his books, can the second publisher sell his books.  

But let me tell you how it was raised a few years ago, at a dispute between two pizza shops in Brooklyn, that made a big splash in the press.

Basil Pizza & Wine Bar is an established gourmet spot on Kingston Avenue. They sell Pizza.

Enter Calabria, which opened its doors some months ago — directly across the street from Basil, also selling pizza.
The owners of Basil sued in a Brooklyn rabbinical court. Basil contended that Calabria’s pizza was, like theirs, “specialty” pizza, and therefore would interfere with Basil’s livelihood. They maintained that they invested enormous amounts to develop and promote this specialty pizza and this will cripple their business. Calabria contended that its “Roman-style” pizza is totally different from Basil’s thin-crust Neapolitan-style pie.

What would you say? The rabbinical court ruled that Calabria could not sell specialty pizza without competing unfairly, but Calabria could sell regular (New York-style) pizza.

Calabria changed its pizza, and has redefined its establishment as one that offers “New York-style pizza.”

My guess is there are enough pizza eaters and a large enough appetite in Brooklyn to support them both. And who knows? When you have more stores on the same black, sometimes both sides gain, as it attracts many more people to the area.

A story: A follower of Rabbi Meir once complained to him about a man who had started a competing business. “He is depriving me of my livelihood!” cried the chasid. “You must tell him to close his shop!”

Said Rabbi Meir: “Have you ever noticed how a horse behaves when he is led to a water hole? He begins to paw angrily at the water with his hooves; only when the water is well-muddied does he begin to drink.

Why does the horse act this way?”
“I don’t know,” said the chasid. “Why?”

“Because the horse sees his reflection in the water and thinks that another horse has come to drink his water. So he kicks and paws until he has ‘chased away the other horse.
“What the horse doesn’t understand,” concluded Rabbi Meir, “are three truths.

1) What he sees as his opposition is only a mirror of himself. He is his own greatest enemy. It is his own face that he despises.

2) ”By kicking at the other horse all he is accomplishing is making his own water dirty and murky. Instead of enjoying clean water, now he will have dirty muddy water.

3) “He also fails to realize that G-d has created enough water for all the horses.”
In life, when you have neighbors, associates, friends, relatives, who may sometimes do things differently than you. How do you make sure you do not sometimes lose your identity, your values, your holiness in the process?

The answer is: There are the “markers that the early one established.” For 3000 years, Jews always maintained “markers” and “boundaries” that they never crossed. These markers included everything from what we ate, how we spoke, dressed, and lived. And you must be cautious not to move those markers, because when you move those markers, even a little bit, you may blur and louse the boundaries altogether.

Long ago, G-d gave us a Shabbat, a day on which the Jew behaves very differently from his neighbors. He gave us Kashrut so that we eat differently, too. And He urges us to educate our children Jewishly so that they will understand, feel and know why they really are distinctive.

But if we move those markers, and Sunday becomes like Saturday, and Friday night like Tuesday night things become hazy and young people become confused. And then they wonder why we are suddenly putting up barriers that we ourselves previously took down.

I once asked a prominent businessman why he, a nice Jewish boy, was marrying out of the faith. Couldn't you have found a nice Jewish girl? The fellow answered in all honesty, "Rabbi, I just don't mix in those circles anymore."

But had this individual retained the landmark of a kosher home, for example, he would have still been mixing in kosher circles. By preserving our landmarks, we preserve our identity.

A story: A Chassid once came to Rabbi DovBer, the "Maggid" of Mezeritch. "Rebbe," he said, "there is something I do not comprehend. When the Almighty commands us to do something or forbids a certain act, I understand. No matter how difficult it may be, no matter how strongly my heart craves the forbidden course, I can do what G-d desires or refrain from doing what is against His will. After all, man has free choice and by force of will, he can decide on a course of action and stick to it, no matter what. The same is true with speech. Though somewhat more difficult to control, I accept that it is within my power to decide which words will leave my mouth and which will not.

"But what I fail to understand are those precepts which govern matters of the heart; for example, when the Torah forbids us to even entertain a thought that is destructive and wrong. What is one to do when such thoughts enter his mind of their own accord? Can a person control his thoughts?"

Instead of answering the chasid's question, Rabbi DovBer dispatched him to the town of Zhitomir. "Go visit my disciple, Rabbi Zev" he said. "Only he can answer your question."

The trip was made in the dead of winter. For weeks the chasid made his way along the roads which wound their way through the snow-covered forests of White Russia.

Midnight had long come and gone when the weary traveler arrived at Rabbi Zev's doorstep. To his happy surprise, the windows of the scholar's study were alight. Indeed, Rabbi Zev's was the only lighted window in the village. Through a chink in the shutters the visitor could see Rabbi Zev bent over his books.
But his knock brought no response. He waited a while, then tried once more, harder. Still, he was completely ignored. The cold was beginning to infiltrate his bones. As the night wore on, the visitor, with nowhere else to turn, kept pounding upon the frozen planks of Rabbi Zev's door, while the rabbi, a scant few steps away, continued to study by his fireside, seemingly oblivious to the pleas which echoed through the sub-zero night.

Finally, Rabbi Zev rose from his seat, opened the door, and warmly greeted his visitor. He sat him by the fire, prepared him a hot glass of tea, and inquired after the health of their Rebbe. He then led his guest -- still speechless with cold and incredulity -- to the best room in the house to rest his weary bones.
The warm welcome did not abate the next morning, nor the one after. Rabbi Zev was the most solicitous of hosts, attending to the needs of his guest in a most exemplary manner. The visitor, too, was a model guest, considerate and respectful of the elder scholar. If any misgivings about the midnight "welcome" accorded him still lingered in his heart, he kept them to himself.

After enjoying the superb hospitality of Rabbi Zev for several days, the visitor had sufficiently recovered from his journey and apprehension to put forth his query. "The purpose of my visit," he said to his host one evening, "is to ask you a question. Actually, our Rebbe sent me to you, saying that only you could answer me to my satisfaction."

The visitor proceeded to outline his problem as he had expressed it earlier to the Maggid. When he had finished, Reb Zev said: "Tell me, my friend, is a man any less a master of his own self than he is of his home?

"You see, I gave you my answer on the very night you arrived. In my home, I am the boss. Whomever I wish to admit -- I allow in; whomever I do not wish to admit -- I do not."

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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