6-5768: Mitzvah 75

Talmidav Shel Aharon
6-5768: Mitzvah 75
November 26, 2007

Mitzvah 75 – It is a positive commandment to make a parapet about one’s roof, and to remove every stumbling block and possible cause of accident from one’s house.
Hafetz Hayim: For Scripture says, “then you shall make a parapet for our roof, that you shall not bring blood upon your house, etc.” (Deut. 22:8) Whoever leaves his roof without a parapet disobeys a positive commandment. So too with anything that constitutes a stumbling block, posing danger of death, such as a well or a pit. A barrier ten handbreadths high has to be made about it, and the barrier has to be strong enough to allow leaning on it without its collapsing. It is also forbidden to raise a bad [vicious] dog in one’s house. In Sefer Haredim, it is written, “When one bears this religious duty in mind every day, and sees if it requires any repair or improvement, it will be reckoned for him as though he fulfills the duty every day. It applies everywhere and in every time for both men and women.

The Sages have taken a very simple law and expanded it into one of the most important teachings in Judaism. Let us first examine the law. In ancient Israel, most houses had flat roofs that served as a meeting place and even a sleeping place when the weather was good. If the weather was warm outside or too hot inside, families would gather on the roof to escape the heat. The parapet, the small wall around the edge of the roof was a safety measure, to insure that nobody would accidentally fall off. Clearly it has to be strong enough to lean against. A roof that had no parapet was a serious accident waiting to happen.
The Sages of the Talmud however, saw that this law as the basis for an entire corpus of safety legislation. The end of the verse from Deuteronomy, for the sages, clearly implies that anything that may bring “blood upon your house” had to be addressed with proper safety measures. If you dug a pit, you had to put a fence around it so nobody would fall in. The same would apply if you dug a well. If you had a vicious dog, you could not rely on the chain or rope to prevent an accident. One could not thus own a vicious dog, nor keep an ox that had a history of goring other people. If you could not restrain your vicious animals, you were liable for any damages they caused.
It is not a long stretch to see that all manner of safety needs can be added to this law. A Jew should not live in an apartment that does not have child guards to prevent a child from leaning on a screen and falling out the window. One should not live in a tall building without proper fire escapes, or smoke detectors or even carbon monoxide detectors if they are appropriate. You should not chain your doors shut or place bars on the widows without making fire escape plans explicit. The fire plans themselves are included in this law. Poisons in the home would have to be clearly marked and kept out of reach of children. And homes with small children should be “baby proofed”. One could even say that it includes a provision that would require all passengers in a car driven by a Jew to wear seat belts.
If the prime directive of Judaism is to preserve life, than clearly these safety rules are designed to do just that. To endanger life would be to violate this prime directive. Little wonder that the Sages expanded this law to include all manner of safety instruction. They felt that everyone was responsible for the well being of those who lived in or were visiting their home.

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