Ki Teze
For the week of September 1, 2001 / 13 Elul 5761
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 21:10 - 25:19
Haftarah: Isaiah 54:1-10

Guard Rails

When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof (Devarim / Deuteronomy 22:8).

This is one of my favorite verses in the Torah. Not only does it show us how much God cares for human safety, it clearly illustrates what our responsibility is in regard to this basic life issue.

The roofs on houses in those days (as many are today) were flat, and the people used their roofs for various things. Unless something like a guard rail surrounded the roof, people could easily fall off. Therefore God commanded they be provided.

In case this needs clarification, it appears that the builder is thought of here as the owner. Even if the owner didn't do the actual construction, he would have overseen it. This is similar to Solomon's building the temple, who, as far as we know, was the chief overseer of the project, not the literal builder.

The builder of the house was responsible to make sure that the railing was in place, but that is how far his responsibility went. If he did his part, he would not be responsible if someone fell. But if the builder did not do his part, and someone fell to his death, then the builder would have been liable for the death. It would not have mattered how the person fell, since the builder failed to do his part.

I know not everything in life is as straightforward as a safety rail on a flat roof, but this teaches us that we are only responsible for the mishaps of others when we do not do our part in protecting them. This applies to tangible things like roofs, but can also be applied to other areas of life as well.

For example if a loved one struggles with an addiction of some kind, then we should not fuel their temptation by bringing the addictive substance into their presence. But if they go out on their own and do what they know they should not do, that is their responsibility. In that case we do not share in their guilt.

This is only one example, but I think we would do well to recognize other areas of life where we could and should construct literal or figurative guard rails to protect others. But once we have done that, we mustn't take on the false guilt that may burden us, if they don't heed the protection.

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