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 simple mitzvah. This mitzvah is a practical application of another law from Vayikra, (Leviticus): “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” In this mitzvah we are commanded to proactively act towards preventing the harm of any person. It is not enough to just stand by.
In his reading of this mitzvah, Rambam 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 number 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 we are capable of making a change in our household, then the responsibility falls on us. If we can make a change in our local community, we need to exercise that ability. Even if we aren’t in a position to make global changes, we have an active responsibility to do as much as we possibly can to make the changes we 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, each one of us needs to take some time to think about what we have done this past year and more importantly what we are able to change moving forward.
Natalie, Grade 12