Ki Tetzei(Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19)
Make a Fence
Nobody wants to get hurt, or to cause anyone else to get hurt. But sometimes it's easy to turn one's head and ignore a dangerous situation. In our Torah portion this week, we learn how important it is to be careful. A person who builds a house is told to "Make a fence for your roof so you will not place blood in your house if someone falls from it." God wants us to pay attention and care about each other's safety so we can all live long and be healthy.
In our story, a boy learns a painful lesson about how to look out for others' safety.
" THE SHOPPING TRIP "
Mr. Gladstein was walking home with his Shabbat groceries from the local Shop-Good supermarket. He had three big bags piled up so high he could barely see where he was going.
He turned up the driveway of the condo where he lived. "Great, I'm almost home," he thought to himself. "Boy were these bags heavy."
Just then he felt himself trip on something on the sidewalk. CRASH! Down went Mr. Gladstein, and all his groceries too.
While he managed to catch himself and avoid really getting hurt, unfortunately his groceries didn't fare as well.
There was now what looked like quite an interesting piece of "abstract art" on the sidewalk consisting of smashed eggs, squashed tomatoes, and sloshing soda bottles, one of which was still squirting out like a crazed water fountain.
As he was getting his wits about him, Mr. Gladstein noticed the cause of his dramatic fall. A shiny blue bicycle was lying right across the middle of the walkway. On it was written in clear letters, "Property of Michael Mazik, Apt. 4A."
Mr. Gladstein, mumbling to himself things better not repeated, first cleaned off remnants of his grocery order from the sidewalk, and moved the bike out of the way to prevent a "repeat performance" by any other unsuspecting neighbor. Then he made his way over to 4A and rang the bell.
Mrs. Mazik, Michael's mom, opened the door. The red-faced frustrated neighbor told her the whole story. She apologized profusely, offered to pay for the broken items, and after calming Mr. Gladstein down, marched toward Michael's room at the back of their condo.
She had to knock a few times before Mike heard her as he was playing his latest CD rather loudly inside. "Yeah Mom?" he finally answered, coming to the door.
"Michael, did you ride your bike this morning?" asked Mrs. Mazik, trying not to sound accusing.
"Sure I did Mom," said Michael with a relieved smile that she wasn't coming to tell him to turn down the music.
"Well, where did you leave it when you finished?" she went on with a bit of an edge in her voice.
Michael scratched his head. "I don't really remember," he said. "I just left it, you know, around."
"Maybe on the sidewalk?" led his mother.
"That's right," said Michael, impressed with his mother's memory.
"Michael," his mother sighed. "You can't just do that. Leaving it there was dangerous for people who had to walk by." She explained what happened to Mr. Gladstein. "We each have a responsibility to keep our environment safe. And part of that is being careful where we leave our things. Now please go out there and move your bike before someone else trips."
When he got downstairs he saw Mr. Gladstein with a broom in hand picking up the last broken remnants of his groceries. Their eyes met and Michael felt awful that he had caused his neighbor to trip.
"Let me do that for you Mr. Gladstein," Michael said. "I'm really sorry about leaving my bike here. It's the least I can do."
"Well that's nice of you to offer, young man. And I accept your apology. Why don't you sweep and I'll hold the dustpan."
From then on Michael was always careful to park his bike in the bike rack out of everybody's way, and also to fix up other dangerous looking situations, even if they weren't his fault. Each time he did he felt good knowing that he was helping to keep his neighborhood safe.
Q. Is it all right to leave things we use just lying around in a mess or should we put them away? Why?
A. We should put them away. One good reason is because if we don't, people could trip on them and get hurt.
Q. How would you feel if you knew that somebody fell and got hurt from something you left lying around?
Q. All that Michael did was leave his bike on the sidewalk; it wasn't as if he pushed or tripped someone purposely. Why should he be held responsible?
A. Since the potential to cause harm was there, Michael was still negligent. The Torah teaches us to be extra considerate of other people. It's not enough just to refrain from actively hurting them, we even have to try to prevent situations in which people could hurt themselves.
Q. What are some ways we can help to keep things safe in our home or neighborhood?
A. One thing that we can do is make sure that no dangerous household chemicals are left in places where little kids can reach them. Another thing we can do is to pick up or move any slippery objects -- such as fruit peels -- from places where people walk. If you keep your eyes open you'll find many ways to help keep things safe. This shows we care about other people.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Do you think that society has the right to legislate safety laws and codes which proscribe what a person may or may not do on his own property, or should an individual be free to use his property any way he desires?
A. Individual property rights are legitimate and shouldn't be unnecessarily restricted. However, society is also responsible for the common welfare. For example, anti-pollution regulations puts the public's right to breath clean air and drink clean water above the individual's "right" to pollute.
Q. Is it wrong for someone to do activities which cause no harm to anyone except to the doer himself?
A. To answer this, one must grapple with the question of who we are, and to whom does our body belong. Judaism views everything, even a person's own body, as a gift from God. It is given to us as a loan from God. That means we need to take care of our body. God is happy when we use it, but not abuse it. A person isn't free to simply harm or destroy his body as he wishes. Every moment of life is precious, and the respect we owe ourselves is no less that that which we owe others. The Torah respects the individual but asks him to respect himself. Secondly, a person who harms himself often ends up hurting others in the long run.