Building Fences

January 13, 2019

4 min read


The most important fences are the ones we need to build ourselves that protect our intangible, spiritual values.

There’s a lot of talk in the news these days about fences (or walls). I am not about to wade into that arena (I still want to maintain some readership). The Torah also speaks of fences – multiple times in Ethics of Our Fathers. But the fences the Torah is referring to are not physical ones. And they aren’t safeguarding our physical possessions (not to mention our borders; oops! I said I wouldn’t go there!). If we own any precious jewels, we tend to keep them in a locked safe or even in safety deposit box.

We have jewels that are much more precious that we give far less attention to. We devote almost no resources – time, money or thought – to trying to put a fence around our marriages or other important relationships, around our values, around our spiritual growth and our relationship with the Almighty.

It may be valuable to protect our physical possessions but it’s even more crucial that we protect our intangible ones, the spiritual ones, the ones that really count.

It’s a new way of thinking. It requires a lot of planning and strategizing. It’s harder to be spontaneous and whimsical. But it leads to greater reward, a greater sense of accomplishment, a greater ability to hold on to our growth.

Because we all know that if we aren’t moving forward, we’re moving backwards. And that if we don’t erect some fences, our commitments and our values will erode. The pressures around us are just too great.

A friend told me last night about a great tool that she uses. She has made all her passwords reflect important attitudes that she wants to constantly remember and work on. One of her passwords is humility. Another is gratitude. As she goes about her day, as she is buffeted by the complaints from her clients and the demands of her boss, she is able to focus on what really counts. She is able to remember who she really wants to be. Her passwords are a fence against losing herself in the chaos of life’s daily challenges.

The Torah suggests fences to keep our marriages alive, vibrant and exclusively focused on each other. We refrain from physical contact with members of the opposite sex who are not our spouse. It can be awkward but it’s a constant and effective tool against all the forces that eat away at too many marriages. Even if this doesn’t seem possible, everyone can make some fence for their own situation – be it something positive like a consistent date night or something more protective like a rule for our husbands requiring no shmoozing on the phone with former female friends.

Whatever the fence, the point remains the same. It is naïve to think that our values will hold without some safeguarding, without some conscious protection.

If we want our children to be more focused on acquiring good qualities than good possessions, we probably need a fence against acquisitiveness. A dramatic one is not to live in a neighborhood where large homes and fancy cars are the expectation. If that’s a step too far, perhaps you could refrain from buying them a car on the advent of their 16th birthday and let them save and purchase it themselves. The mitzvah of ma-aser, of giving a 10th of our income to charity can be viewed as fence against getting too caught up in the material, a way of remembering that there are others less fortunate, others in need, others to take care of.

I could go on and on! The possibilities are endless and the areas where fences are required equally so. The assault on Jewish values is relentless. The greater the assault, the greater the need for a fence. Some fences are mandated by the Torah, some by our rabbinic sages and others are very individualistic. We all need to determine what works for us, what we can live with and what will simultaneously be effective.

Beyond the obligatory ones, it doesn’t really matter what our fences are. It just matters that we have them. Because some things are just too important, just too precious to leave to chance.

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