This week’s parasha is Ki Tetze, which is in the Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy). The whole book is one long speech by Moshe before the Israelites enter Canaan. This parasha has the most mitzvot out of all the parshiot - 74. These range from mitzvot about burials, returning lost objects, inheritance and much more. This week I would like to focus on one law in particular which states that “When you build a new house, you shall make a guard rail for your roof, so that you shall not cause blood [to be spilled] in your house, if anyone should fall from it [the roof].”
This mitzvah sounds straightforward - if you build a house, put a fence around your roof. Even if this law wasn’t in the Torah, it seems like common sense. A safety precaution. But, if we dig deeper, we can find what we can learn from this seemingly mundane mitzvah. This mitzvah is a practical application of another law from Vayikra: “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbour.” In this mitzvah we are commanded to proactively act towards preventing harm to any person. It is not enough to just stand by.
In his reading of this mitzvah, Rambam, the Talmud commentator, takes this idea further. He says that: “regarding any obstacle which could cause mortal danger, one, not just the owner, has a positive commandment to remove it… if one does not remove it but leaves those obstacles constituting potential danger, one transgresses a positive commandment and negates a negative commandment - ‘Thou shall not spill blood’” (Mishneh Torah, Laws of the Murderer and Protecting Life, 11:4).
If we interpret this mitzvah according to Rambam, we are responsible for a large amount of the problems in this world - we have the obligation to anticipate potential dangers and act upon them. But where would this obligation end? How far does it go?
For most of us, it would be impossible to right all the wrongs in the world by oneself. An answer to these questions comes from a passage in the Talmud:
“Whoever can prevent his household from committing a sin but does not, is responsible for the sins of his household; if he can prevent his fellow citizens, he is responsible for the sins of his fellow citizens; if the whole world, he is responsible for the sins of the whole world.”
The word to focus on is “can”. If you are capable of making a change in your household, then the responsibility falls on you. If you can make a change in your local community, you need to exercise that ability. Even if you aren’t in the position to make global changes, do as much as you possibly can to make the changes you are able to make.
As the High Holidays are coming up, it is important to acknowledge this idea of change. We are about to enter a period of self-reflection. During the next few weeks we need to take some time to think about what we have done this past year and how we could have made that change. Additionally, to think about the impact we can make in the coming year.
Written by Hannah (Grade 10)