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Two Minutes of Torah: Ki Tetzeh - Our Responsibility

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what I personally am responsible for. I know I’m responsible for my own actions and have to bear accountability for them, but I’m also conscious that I’m told as a member of the Jewish people “Kol Yisrael Aravim Ze'vezeh” – all Israel are responsible one for another. And so maybe I’m not just responsible for my actions, but also responsible for the actions of those around me. 

As we read this week’s Torah portion of Ki Tetzeh, continuing the themes of Devarim, it’s all about our responsibility for our actions and the consequences of what we might do. One of the commandments that we get this week says when you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so you do not bring blood guilt on your house if anyone should fall from it.

It’s a really interesting injunction about how we should build our homes, when we settle in the Promised Land, and while it might seem like this is a strange instruction, it does tell us something about the way that the Torah views our responsibility. When building a house, we have to be mindful of the areas that could be dangerous for others, the roof being an obvious one. And so in this way when we build the roof, we have to make sure there is a fence around it, so that if anyone finds themselves up there, for whatever reason, we ensure they are protected. 

We might wonder if we really are responsible for someone who finds themselves on our roof, but yet the Torah has no hesitation in reminding us that if this person falls off our house, then we will bring blood guilt on our house. And so in this way, the Torah seems to be telling us that we have to bear responsibility for others. We have to remember that beyond ourselves we have a responsibility to try and protect those around us. Building a fence on our roof is just one way in which we can protect others. We have to think about what are the other fences we need to be constructing, both real and imagined, so that it’s not just our roof that’s protected, but our societies that are protected. So that we recognize that our responsibility is not just for our own actions, but is for the consequences of our actions and the way that they might impact other people.

The roof is but one example of how we have to try and protect those around us. The challenge for us is to take this one commandment seemingly coming out of nowhere in the list of commandments coming out of this Torah portion and to apply it to our lives - so that we find ways to take our responsibility, not just for ourselves, but for all of those around us. Finding ways to protect all those in our society.

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