Ki Tetze: Protecting Each Other From Falling
When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall it
This past week we witnessed the worst of nature and the best of the human soul and spirit. Hurricane Harvey has brought historic and tragic devastation and homelessness to millions of people. The storm has been relentless; causing damage which will take years to repair. Harvey reminds us about our mortality; and how nature does not make exceptions for wealth and status (or lack thereof).
If there is anything good coming from this storm, it is the comfort in knowing how people are demonstrating extraordinary kindness during the crisis. I have read stories about people rescuing neighbors, the elderly and trapped pets. People have been rescued by boat and by superhuman effort. While no one should have to endure a killer storm to experience neighborly kindness; Harvey reminds us how we do not live insular lives isolated from the people around us. Success in life is not just about material success or achieving social status. A storm like Harvey can take all that away in an instance. No storm however, regardless of how potent; can destroy character and inner spirit. No matter how hard we physically, emotionally or financially suffer after a natural disaster, our concern for one another prevents all of us from freefall.
The Torah portion of Ki Tetze introduces the parapet. A parapet was a kind of boundary wall people built around the roof. In antiquity, roofs were generally flat. People not only used the roof for specific house work, but used it for socializing. Because the roof was flat, it had no natural boundary; there was often the danger of someone accidently falling off. Therefore, building a parapet was a way to protect anyone from falling off the roof. We could perhaps argue that the parapet legislation is unfair to homeowners. Why should they endure the expense due to someone else’s potential negligence and carelessness? The Torah dismisses such a question. As long as any danger exists the onus is on the homeowner alone. The Torah here introduces the parapet as a means of engendering a caring community; whereby people genuinely care for one another. Building the parapet protects everyone from falling off the edge. It suggests that all human beings are truly responsible for each other.
When it comes to the ethics of helping, comforting and protecting one another, Judaism goes to unprecedented lengths. The exceptional humanity displayed during Harvey reflects cherished values so embraced by the Torah and Jewish experience. It is reassuring to know that in the moments of grave danger, there will be caring people around us to prevent our fall.
Hurricane Harvey Relief:
The Jewish Federations of North America
Wall Street Station
PO Box 157
New York, NY 10268
The Jewish Federation of Greater Houston
Hurricane Relief Fund
5603 S Braeswood Blvd, Houston, TX 77096.
Phone: (713) 729-7000.
The website is https://www.houstonjewish.org