Several years ago, I was speaking with a friend who worked for a large accounting firm. We were discussing email. Blackberry phones were the norm in corporate America at the time, and while hard to imagine today, email was still relatively new. We were discussing the deluge of information and communications brought about by email; the loss of formalities; the immediacy of contact. Suddenly, it seemed, Dear Mr. or Ms. became “Hey” or “What’s up!?”
What my friend shared with me was the denigration of behavior because of both the immediacy and informality of this mode of communicating. Colleagues at her firm would quickly shoot off an email without pausing to think through the implications of what was being sent. Feelings hurt. Relationships harmed. The firm took dramatic steps and instituted a policy that no email – unless requesting information – would be answered in 24 hours of receiving it. Boundaries and limits set, norms redefined to uphold relationships.
In a world today where there seem to be no boundaries, where in many ways much of world is open, where large groups of people otherwise marginalized have appropriately gained equality and justice, interactions between individuals have lost their sanctity. Shoot off an email in disgust. Call someone out on social media.
Our Torah reading this week, Shoftim, further elaborates a legal system that in many ways is an improvement on previous norms. Putting someone to death who accidentally committed homicide – and innocent of murder – now constitutes murder. Cities of refuge are established – and close enough to ensure quick access – regulating the clan-based system of justice and preventing revenge killing. And verse 19:14, You shall not move your countryman’s landmarks, reminds the reader of the sacrosanct purpose of boundary markers, emphasizing historic ownership of land, and demarcating the significance of individual space, literal and figurative: Torah text’s insight extrapolated to texting and emailing, as well as boundaries and property. Shoftim sets both property and humans/human relations in a great space of sanctification and honor, and it defines the dignity that each individual, made in the image of God, deserves.
Rabbi Jay Strear
President & CEO
Please email Jay Strear at CEO@JEWISHcolorado.org with comments or questions.