Do not perform the practices of the land of Egypt in which you dwelled, and do not perform the practices of the land of Canaan to which I bring you, and do not follow their traditions” (Leviticus 18:3).
This is a rather peculiar commandment. Why are we commanded to keep our practices different from only the inhabitants of these two lands? Rashi, explains that these two were the most abominable of all nations. How then does this apply to us nowadays? Canaan and Egypt don’t even exist anymore (as they did in the time of the Torah). How can we keep this mitzvah today?
Mesillat Yesharim (The Path of the Just), Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto quotes the fundamental dictum of our sages that one of the ways to lead a saintly life is by “putting a fence around the Torah”. By keeping a fence aroundthe Torah, the Jew makes sure that he won’t even come close to transgressing any of the mitzvot.
Egypt and Canaan were the two most immoral nations that the Jewish people will ever come in contact with. Though there might be other nations out there whose lack of morals could be close to that of Egypt and Canaan, there will never be another quite as bad as these.
The way that we put a fence around the Torah with this mitzvah is by not acting like any other nation. We know that a Torah life is the only truly moral life. The only place where real morals come from is the Torah. Any other “codes of life” come from Man, and we know that those cannot even cast a shadow on our Torah. Although the practices and traditions of other nations might not seem immoral on the surface, we should still stay far away from them. This includes following superstitions like black cats and walking under ladders, knocking on wood, showing love on February 14th, and especially putting a tree in your house during the month of December! This is the way that we keep a fence around the Torah.
The Jews are always coming and going from immoral situations, just as we were coming form Egypt and going to Canaan. Even though these practices and traditions might seem as if they are the way of the land, we must keep our fence around the Torah by staying far away from these things.
Just after the commemoration of our redemption from Egypt and the beginning of our trip to the land of Israel, we must keep in mind that we are a distinct nation. We are the only nation which has the Torah, and we must keep a solid fence around our most prized possession!