A wealthy benefactor once came to visit a hospital he supported. As he entered the building, he saw — to his horror — a mouse. "This is terrible!" he cried. "Shut the entire hospital down right away."

An emergency meeting of the board was called. The board members sat, talked, discussed and debated for hours. Finally they turned to the chief of staff and said, "What do you think?"

The administrator answered as follows:

"It says in the Bible that G‑d created every creature with its borders. Certain creatures live on dry land, certain creatures live in jungles. Some live in swamps, some in high places, and others in low places. But every creature has its borders.

"Even in time, there are borders. Certain creatures work at night and sleep during the day. Others sleep during the day and work at night. Some are active during the summer, others during the winter. These are the different borders in time.

"This is even referred to in the Book of Psalms, where it's written that the sun sets and the animals come out to do their work. When the sun comes up, the animals go back to their hiding places and the people come out. So every creature has its borders in time and space, and its definition as to what it's supposed to do.

"Now it happened that one crazy mouse got confused and wandered away from its border. It trespassed onto the border of human beings. Therefore, nine businessmen left their businesses to come here today and sit around and discuss what should be done with a single mouse who got lost!"

The chief of staff sat down again. Feeling silly, the nine trustees called off the meeting and went home.

* * * * *

The ancient sages taught that there are four basic kinds of people. The first person says, "What's mine is mine and what's yours is mine." This kind of person is wicked and selfish.

The second says, "What's mine is yours and what's yours is yours." This is a generous person, a saintly person, a person to be admired.

The third says, "What's yours is yours and what's mine is mine." Not too generous but not too selfish either.

And the fourth says, "What's mine is yours and what's yours is mine." The sages called this kind of person an ignoramus.

If what's mine is mine and what's yours is mine, then I want everything. If what's mine is yours and what's yours is yours, then you can have everything. If mine is mine and yours is yours, then you can have what's yours and I'll have what's mine.

But if mine is yours and yours is mine, what in the world is that? It's a free-for-all, the opposite of a stable and orderly society.

We say, "I'll take whatever I feel like taking, and you take whatever you feel like taking. What's mine is not mine, what's yours is not yours." Which means, "I'm not me and you're not you." It's insanity, but it's the way we live our lives all too often.

When the Children of Israel came into the Promised Land, the first miracle that happened was the fall of the walls of Jericho. After that, complete victory was certain. Once the walls fell, it was all over. What was inside was theirs for the taking.

When the borders of the world fall, when the walls of morality fall, everything falls. To have no borders at all is to live with insecurity.

It used to be that the borders of the world were very clear. Day was day, night was night, good was good and bad was bad. Today the whole world is suffering from a pervasive loss of borders.

Global borders have all but disappeared. In the past, when a nation wanted to wage war, its army would cross a border to invade another nation's territory. Today they don't cross a border at all; a commander can sit at home, push a button, and wipe out a country three thousand miles away.

Even the human body no longer recognizes its borders. Disease used to be something that came from outside and attacked the body. Today's diseases are from within the body itself. Either the body suddenly develops tissue where it's not supposed to, or destroys parts of itself that it shouldn't be destroying.

AIDS is a perfect example of a lack of borders: The immune system has gone berserk and the body no longer knows how to defend itself. When the body is so confused about itself, it's a loss of borders.

The loss of borders even threatens to destroy families. Family life used to be a very strong border. A person's family was like a little world unto itself. There was a border that set the family territory apart from the non-family, what was private from what was public. Family was family; home was home.

The family borders were maintained: strong, healthy, clear, and unquestioned. They were based on loyalty, respect, and trust. Today those borders are weakened and blurred, even in the best of families. As a result, family life is suffering.

A family border is like the skin of a balloon. When holes are poked in a balloon, the air escapes. If a breach in a family border occurs, the love dissipates.

Children used to know they'd come home and find their mother and father there. Now it's not so certain. Today, children leave for school wondering whether they'll come home to find that one or both of their parents will have abandoned them.

In our personal lives, our feelings no longer have borders. We've lost touch with ourselves and become confused. Are we in love or just infatuated? Are we angry or vaguely uneasy? Are we upset or perfectly fine? We don't know anymore.

We're left with no borders for ourselves as individuals, no definitions, no sense of selfhood. If we allow people to take advantage of us, if we allow people to hurt us, if we allow people to walk all over us, it's because we have no borders.

We're taught to build up our self-esteem, and so we tell ourselves: "I'm smart, I'm good looking, I'm talented, I'm wonderful." Then we start believing it: "Maybe I am a little bit special. I'm not so stupid after all." And then, "You're tight; I can have it my way. I ought to have it my way, and nobody is going to tell me what to do. I deserve it all."

Suddenly, we're monsters. We don't let people step on us anymore; we step on them first. Again, it's because we have no borders. Emotionally we feel, "I can't wait until tomorrow to express myself, I have to do it now. If you don't want to listen, you're not really my friend."

We're out of control; we have no limits on our own emotions. And we were taught to be that way as children. Our parents told us, "All we're interested in is your happiness." Now that we're adults, we run around saying, "It's my time to express myself," even though no one is interested, no one wants to hear and everyone is in a completely different mood.

I was visiting an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting once when a woman recounted a tragic story about how her husband's drunken driving had nearly killed their children. She smiled as she spoke. When the counselor pointed out to her that smiling at such a time was inappropriate, she excused it by saying, "I can't seem to help it." The counselor told her, "That's what your husband says about his drinking: he can't help it; he just `has to.' "

When we have borders, we express our feelings only when it's appropriate and do not express them when it isn't. We do not impose ourselves on others.

When we have no borders, the way we conduct our lives depends on how we feel at the time. That's not sanity; that creates insecurity. But thinking well of ourselves won't make us feel more secure. We will feel secure when we know what we ought to be doing.

There's an old saying, "Don't laugh at a funeral or cry at a wedding." In different words, it means: "Establish borders with your feelings and your behavior."

You might say, "I'm an honest person. When I'm sad, I'm sad. What am I supposed to do, make believe I'm happy? I'm too virtuous for that."

Well, even honesty has its borders. There are times when your sadness, your happiness, and your honesty are all irrelevant - for example, at a funeral. At someone else's funeral, expressing your happiness is totally inappropriate and unwelcome, out of its border.

At someone else's wedding, you're supposed to do what they expect you to do, what they need you to do, and that is dance and enjoy. Don't say, "But I'm the honest type," because no one is talking about you right now. It's not your wedding. Even if it were, you shouldn't cry. You invited guests who came to celebrate. If you start crying, you're out of line. Being out of line means not recognizing borders.

If we have nothing that says our life is described by certain limits, that we may live within these borders, that we may not live outside those borders, then we have no borders except our own egos.

When G‑d created the world, it was part of His plan to give everything a limit, everything its borders. By giving us borders, G‑d gave us a true sense of security, not through artificial self-esteem or unlimited ego but through morality.

If we know what we may do and what we may not do, then we have borders. Then we have a clear idea of what is appropriate and what is inappropriate; what is allowed and what is not allowed; what is right and what is wrong.

There is one border that makes us who we are more than any other: modesty. Modesty is the framework that gives us a sense of self and a blueprint for stability.

We know that G‑d wants modesty because He Himself is modest. It is part of G‑d's modesty that He even limited how far He revealed Himself to the world, containing Himself to a certain degree. He limited how much energy He put into the world, and how long the world will exist.

When G‑d decided to dwell on earth among human beings, He wanted to do so in modesty. According to Jewish mysticism, the relationship between G‑d and mankind is a marriage, a very modest marriage from which we learn how much G‑d cherishes modesty.

The purpose for which the Holy Temple was built in Jerusalem was to contain G‑d's Presence, called in Hebrew the "Shekhinah," the feminine aspect of G‑d. The structure of the Temple itself resembled a womb. G‑d is referred to as He, and the Holy Temple as She; G‑d is called our Father, the Temple our Mother.

The parallel to a marriage between a man and a woman is carried through most of the laws pertaining to the Holy Temple. For example, a man is not allowed to lie with his wife if one of them is drunk; a priest was not allowed to enter the Temple if he was drunk.

G‑d told King Solomon, "Build Me a house that I can dwell in it. Make me a fence, and within the fence, make me a courtyard. Within the courtyard, build me a building, with walls. And within those walls, there have to be rooms. And within those rooms, there have to be partitions and doors. And on those doors, you must hang for Me curtains."

For this to be G‑d's house, there had to be a curtain on the door to the courtyard, a curtain on the door to the Temple, and a curtain on the door to the chambers within.

In the Holy Temple, there were two chambers, the inner chamber and the outer chamber. The outer chamber was called "Holy". The inner chamber, the dwelling place of G‑d's Presence, was called the "Holy of Holies". The difference between the two chambers was that although every priest could enter the outer chamber, only one was chosen to become the High Priest, and only he could enter the Holy of Holies.

Between the Holy and the Holy of Holies there was also a curtain. All of these curtains represented G‑d's modesty, because even G‑d needs borders.

Only one man was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, and that was the High Priest. So the question is asked: If something needed repairing, what could they do? If the walls cracked, they would need to be repaired. If no one was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies, how could this be done?

Above the Holy of Holies was yet another chamber, from which a basket could be lowered with a workman inside. The basket was closed on three sides, and open only on the side of the wall that needed to be mended. The workman could do what he needed to do, repair what needed to be repaired, yet remain closed off from the rest of the room.

This special chamber above the Holy of Holies was called the "Bedroom," even though there were no beds in it.

The "Holy" represents the state of innocence that a woman is in before she is married. The "Holy of Holies" is the state of being married, a state of even greater sanctification which is shared with only one person, just as only one priest, the High Priest, could enter the inner chamber. Before a woman is married, there are many possibilities as to whom she may marry, but after she is married, there is only one man whom she has chosen.

Between the two chambers was a curtain. In the parallel to marriage, the curtain represents the veil with which a bride covers her face and hair.

As in the Holy Temple, G‑d expects us to live with clearly defined borders in our lives. Modesty is the one border that stands out above all the others. Both the curtain and the bridal veil represent modesty. Just as the curtain separated the outer chamber, which was public, from the inner chamber, which was private, the bridal veil distinguishes between a single woman and a married woman.

The Holy of Holies contained the ark which held the tablets of the Ten Commandments, the essence of G‑d's Holy Scripture. Above the Ark, there was the chamber mentioned before, the "Bedroom".

In marriage there are also two parts. There is the part which corresponds to Scripture, that is, the marriage vows, the sacred institution of marriage. And there is the physical relationship, the intimacy of marriage, which is considered even higher.

From this, we have a very clear definition, very clear borders, as to what our lives are to consist of. First there is the state of being single, when we are to be modest and holy, then the state of being married, when our sanctity and our modesty increases. The bedroom, the intimacy of marriage, is the highest state of all, because from this room came the power to repair the walls of the Temple itself.

The message for us is clear: If our lives are not quite right today, if our relationships need fixing, if we want to know how to solve the problems of society, the solution is to strengthen our borders. If our observance of Scripture is lacking, if our morality is in disrepair, if the world is in trouble today, the solution is to increase our modesty.

There has to be a border between night and day, there has to be a border between two countries, there has to be a border between animals and humans, but the border around the bedroom has to be stronger than all of them.

The stronger our borders are, the more modest we are, the more true, the more trustworthy, the more reliable, and the more at peace we will be freeing us to pursue goodness and G‑dliness in a common effort, which has the makings of true peace.

As peace comes to the world, as we beat our swords into plowshares, the borders defining nations won't matter. What will matter will be the borders that define people.