IN HARMS WAY    by Rabbi Reuven Mann

The mitzvot of the Torah deal with every aspect of a person's life, both the mundane and sublime.  An example of this is the mizvah of maakeh which is contained in this week's parsha, Ki Tetzeh.  The commandment obliges us to maintain high standards of safety on our premises.  Thus, if a person has a flat roof, which is accessible for use, he must build a fence (maakeh) around it.  The reason which seems obvious is stated in the Torah: "and you shall make a fence for your roof and not place blood in your house when the faller falls from it."

The question arises: is this just good practical advice or is there a deeper spiritual message to this mitzvah?  We should pay careful attention to the wording of the verse.  Literally translated it is saying that "the faller should not fall from it."  At first glance the use of the word "faller" is redundant.  If he falls then by definition he is a "faller."  What is the message that the Torah is communicating here?

Rashi makes an interesting comment on the term nofail (faller).  He says: this person deserves to fall nevertheless you should not be the cause of his death for reward is brought about through the virtuous and punishment through the guilty."  In my opinion Rashi is highlighting the moral dimension of the mitzvah.  The Torah chose the word nofail for a good reason.  In an ideal world there would not be a need for guard rails on roof tops.  The reason is because intelligent people stay away from situations of danger.  Thus the owner of a house might say: I have no need for a fence since I and my family members are careful and responsible people.  The Torah, however, recognizes that there are people who fit the description of the nofail.  They are reckless, or careless, or absent minded and put themselves in situations of danger.  If they should fall it is due to their own negligence because they should have been more careful.  Still the Torah obliges us to take precautions and establish protections not only for those who've "got it all together", but for those who are at risk because of their reckless disposition.  The philosophy of maakeh extends to all facets of life, for no one is perfect and each of us has areas in which we lack prudence and take needless and dangerous risks.  Sometimes we take dangerous gambles and escape any harmful consequences.  When that happens we should give thanks to Hashem who guards the "foolish."  This should make us humble and more sympathetic and sensitive to foibles of those who are more prone to harm than ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom