Sunday, August 14, 2022

The past Lag BaOmer was one of those times when the eyes of the whole nation watched in tears the unimaginable consequences of the terrible disaster in Meron. The scale of the disaster—45 dead, including young children—and the circumstances—people who came to participate in a spiritual experience crushed to death—made it too difficult to digest.

In our multi-mitzvah parsha we read a relevant verse: “When you build a new house, then you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring guilt of bloodshed on your household if anyone falls from it.”

In the words of the Rambam, “We are commanded to remove all obstacles and dangers from all our dwellings… and the dangerous and dilapidated places will all be built and repaired until there will be no more danger.”

Sefer HaChinuch discusses the spiritual aspect of this mitzvah: “Even though God supervises the details of people’s lives and knows all of their deeds, and everything that happens to them is through His decree and His commandment, in accordance with their merit or their guilt… nonetheless a person must guard himself against the accidents that are usual in the world. Because God created His world and built it upon the foundations of the principles of nature, and decreed that fire should burn and that water puts out the flame. And so too, nature requires that if a large stone falls on the head of a man, that it will smash his brain; or that if a person falls from the top of a high roof to the ground, that he will die. And He graced the bodies of people and blew into them a living soul with a mind capable of protecting the body from all incidents, and then placed the two of them—the soul and the body—within the sphere of the natural elements… And since God in His wisdom subjugated the human body to nature, He commanded him to guard himself against accidents. As nature, to which he is subjugated, will act upon him if he does not guard himself against it… and they said that a miracle is not performed for anyone who relies on a miracle.”

We are taught the duty of responsibility, caution and avoidance of danger and as such the obligation “to do what is right and good” in God’s world.

The commandment of railing pertains to dangers in the private domain but its spirit is much broader. It joins an array of mitzvot: “Don’t stand idly by the blood of your neighbor”—the prohibition to stand passively while you can save another, the mitzvah to return a lost item, which actually includes the duty to prevent any economic or physical damage, the prohibition “to place a stumbling block before the blind”—the responsibility not to hinder a person in any area that is unfamiliar to them where they may suffer a loss. Paying close attention to the Torah, we hear the call for broad responsibility in preventing any physical, financial and even mental harm from others. It is sometimes said that if God made you notice something, you cannot follow the natural tendency to ignore, to walk down the street blindfolded. The responsibility begins with every individual, and as your circle of influence grows, so do the religious demands and expectations.

In this parsha we hear that when a tragedy happens in a city, the elders have to be able to declare with certainty, “Our hands did not shed this blood,” meaning that they didn’t neglect any of their responsibilities toward the bypasser. The Torah expects us to take full responsibility, and checking our own roofs is just the beginning.

Rabbanit Rachelle Fraenkel is a yoetzet halacha and senior scholar at Nishmat, and head of hilcheta advanced Halacha studies at Matan. She is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau ( www.mizrachi.org/speakers ).

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