“When you build a new house, you shall make a fence (guard-rail) for your roof, so that you shall not cause blood to be spilled in your house, that the one who falls should fall from it [the roof].” (Devorim 22:8)
We must learn to be vigilant. We must take great care to avoid harming or injuring a fellow Jew. We must even make sure that my property doesn’t pose a risk to the other. In Biblical times, roofs were often flat (as they were used to dry produce and for other related activities of daily living) and therefore, fences had to be constructed around one’s roof to ensure that no one would fall. On the most basic level, the Torah is instilling within us a heightened sensitivity for the other. We can’t harm with our words, our fists or our roof; we must be ever cognizant and aware of the safety and security of the other.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson 1902-1994) explains this verse as a metaphoric message:
“Ki sivneh bayis chadash, (when you build a new house)” – The home represents a new life initiative. When you embark upon something new …
“V’asisa maakeh l’gagecha, (you shall make a fence for your roof)” – You must set boundaries. Just as the fence is the boundary for the roof, we must learn to make boundaries in life.
Life is filled with much new construction. We build new relationships and careers. We start new journeys and explore new possibilities. Whenever we start something new, we must learn to establish appropriate boundaries and erect the necessary fences. Our careers may thrust us into a world that does not share our values and ideals. The demands and expectations of the work force may put us in situations of spiritual and moral discomfort. What fences must be created to ensure that we don’t lose our spiritual identities while climbing the ladder of success? What can we each do to protect our personal holiness even while spending our days in environments which may not be conducive to personal growth?
Marriage requires a great deal of effort and attention. At times we take liberties with the dignity, honor or feelings of a beloved spouse. At times we do things which are hurtful, insensitive and demeaning. What fences do we need to create in our marriages to ensure that we are each behaving as a proper spouse, nurturing marital love and growth.
On a personal level, we are often bombarded by temptation and desire. What fences should we create for ourselves to ensure that we continue down the path of growth and not fall into the abyss of personalistic darkness?
In life, we are constantly embarking on new construction. We construct homes of careers, marriages and develop ourselves. Each of these beautiful homes require a fence. It is the fences of self-discipline, moral clarity, spiritual motivation and desire for growth which ensure that which we build will be beautiful, fulfilling and safe for ourselves and for those whom we love.