By Rabbi Moshe Bloom
Torah VeHa’aretz Institute

“You shall not move your countryman’s landmarks, set up by previous generations (Rishonim), in the property that will be allotted to you in the land that the Hashem your G-d is giving you to possess” (Devarim 19:14).

A Mitzvah Tied To The Land Of Israel?

The prohibition against theft certainly applies in Israel and abroad. This is why the explicit injunction in the verse above, from which it seems that the prohibition against hasagat gevul, moving landmarks between neighboring properties, applies only in the “Land that Hashem your G-d is giving you to possess,” seems very strange. Indeed, in the Sifri, Chazal compare theft and hasagat gevul, concluding: “In the Land of Israel, one transgresses two Biblical prohibitions, while abroad one Biblical prohibition.” It is very strange to find a law that belongs to the Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat, but applies exclusively in the Land of Israel. The Torah, though, speaks for itself. What’s left for us to do is to try to understand why this is so.

The Rishonim And The Laws Of Kilai’im

The strange nature of these verses does not stop here. The Gemara (Shabbat 84b), quotes the Mishnah (Kilai’im 3:1) about a vegetable patch 6×6 tefachim, in which it is possible to sow five different types of grains without transgressing the prohibition of kilai’im (forbidden interplanting). The Gemara explains that the Sages understood that five different grains planted in a certain way in a patch of 6×6 tefachim do not draw their nourishment from one another, which is why this situation does not pose a problem of kilai’im.

The Gemara could have stopped here, and then we would have assumed that here — as in other cases — a halachah l’Moshe mi’Sinai is Chazal’s source for this halachah. Instead, the Gemara cites the Israeli Amora R’ Chiya bar Abba, in the name of R’ Yochanan, the leading Amora from the Land of Israel, on the verse above. R’ Yochanan understands the verses as a reference to kilai’im (according to the Tosafot, ibid.; it seems that Rashi’s explanation adheres to the plain meaning of the text, viewing the prohibition as a reference to theft), explaining that the borders in question are not between neighboring fields, but rather between different types of produce.

The astonishing thing here, though, is the identity of the Rishonim in our verse above. As long as we explain the verse according to its straightforward meaning, as a type of property theft in the Land of Israel, it seems the Rishonim the verse would be referring to are Elazar HaKohen, Yehoshua bin Nun, and the heads of the tribes who divided up the Land and allocated it to the Jewish People. From a term intimating former glory and splendor, this is what we would be expected to understand.

R’ Yochanan, however, has a completely different approach about their identity. R’ Yochanan maintains that “Rishonim” is a reference to the original residents of the Land of Israel, bnei Se’ir HaChori, who settled in the Har Se’ir area prior to the Israelites’ arrival to the Land. This nation had phenomenal agronomic expertise; they could tell based on tasting and smelling the earth which type of soil was suitable for various crops, and knew the amount of nourishment each plant received from the soil.

Theft Is A Form Of Kilai’im

Chazal state: “Most [succumb to sin] with theft, and a minority with illicit sexual relations” (Bava Batra 165a); that is, theft is one of the most widespread wrongdoing between people. From Chazal’s statement, we can understand that this sin is prevalent even among those with an otherwise clean record.

It seems that one of the reasons that people do not take theft seriously is our failure to understand that the money in someone else’s domain is their exclusive, G-d-given property that He decided to appropriate to this specific person. What follows is that attempting to seize this property by illicit means undermines G-d’s natural order.

Were we to view using someone else’s money like the prohibition of kilai’im, the amount of theft would most likely decrease significantly. While this is obviously true all over the world, in the Land of Israel this principle applies a hundredfold.

This is because in the Land of Israel, everything that a person owns is his permanently, for generations upon generations, which is not true abroad. Among the nations, the Jewish people do not have absolute property rights. For this reason, one can’t refer to this as an absolute moving of landmarks (hasagat gevul); [the property] is considered merely chattel, and one would only be transgressing “Do not steal” (Torah Temimah).

We can now understand why the prohibition against hasagat gevul, unlike generic theft, applies in the Land of Israel alone. 

HaRav Moshe Bloom is head of the English department of Torah VeHa’aretz Institute. Torah VeHa’aretz Institute (the Institute for Torah and the Land of Israel) engages in research, public education, and the application of contemporary halachic issues that come to the fore in the bond between Torah and the Land of Israel today. Recently, the Institute opened an English department to cater to the English-speaking public living in Israel and abroad. For additional information and inquiries, email or call 972-8-684-7325.


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