Self Control and Moving Landmarks (Parsha Ki Tavo)

This coming week’s (8/28/2021) Parsha is Ke Tavo (Deut. 26:1-29:8). In this week’s Torah portion we read about the commandment against moving a landmark:

Cursed be he that removeth his neighbour’s landmark. And all the people shall say, Amen.
(Deut. 27:17 KJV)

In its plain, simple meaning, this commandment in the Torah teaches a aspect of the virtue of justice, and respecting the rights of others.

However, Philo of Alexandria sees something deeper in these words of Torah. He writes:

(107) And the Lord God said to the serpent, “Thou art cursed over every creature and over all the beasts of the field.” As joy being a good state of the passions is worthy to be prayed for; so also pleasure is worthy to be cursed being a passion, which has altered the boundaries of the soul, and has rendered it a lover of the passions instead of a lover of virtue. And Moses says in his curses, that “He is cursed who removes his neighbour’s land Mark,”(Deut 27:17), for God placed virtue, that is to say, the tree of life, to be a land mark, and a law unto the soul. But pleasure has removed this, placing in its stead the land mark of vice, the tree of death,
(Allegorical Interpretation, III 107)

And elsewhere:

(83) Do thou, therefore, O my mind, avoid Adah, who bears witness to evil things, and who is borne witness to on each of its attempts at such things. And if you think fit to take her as a partner, she will bring forth to you the greatest possible evil, namely, Jubal, (Gen. 4:20.) the interpretation of which name is “changing;” for if you are delighted with any chance testimony, you will become desirous to upset and overturn every thing, changing the limits which have been affixed by nature to every thing. (84) And Moses is very indignant with such people as these, and curses them, saying, “Cursed is he that removeth his neighbour’s Landmark.”(Deut. 27:17.) And what he means by one’s neighbours, and that which is near to a man, is the good. “For it is not good,” says he, “to depart to the heaven, nor to go beyond the Sea,”(Deut. 30:12.) in the search after what is good; for that stand near to, and close by, each individual.
(On the Posterity of Cain and His Exile 83)

Philo’s allegory interprets the neighbor to represent “the good” the landmark to represent virtue, and the one removing the landmark to represent pleasure in specific, and the passions in general. Such that this allegory teaches us the virtue of self control, to set proper limits (boundaries) for ourselves, and not to compromise these limits.

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