By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
כי יפול הנופל ממנו
Should any man fall from it.
Where do I fit in with Destiny?
This week we read, “Ki sivneh bayis chadash . . . ,” when you build a new house, you must place a guardrail around your roof so that you will not bring blood upon your house should any man fall from the unenclosed roof.
In the olden days, most roofs were flat and people would use them as entertainment areas. The Hebrew wording is “Ki yipol ha’nofel.” Now, literally, ha’nofel means “the one who falls,” which the commentators say implies that this individual was actually destined to fall off a roof and lose his life. So the question is, if that person was, in fact, preordained to fall, why is it my fault just because it happened in my house? Why am I responsible for his acting out his destiny? Why should his blood be on my shoulders?
Jewish philosophers would answer this question by saying that although we do definitely believe in destiny, and that whatever happens is part of the Almighty’s vast eternal plan, every individual nonetheless has an obligation to do his best to prevent tragedy. We must take precautions. Although we believe in miracles, we are not permitted to rely upon them. There is a Yiddish proverb that “the man destined to drown will drown even in a glass of water.” But that doesn’t mean that you have to be the one to put his head under the hose. In short, we believe in the concept of bashert but we mustn’t live by it. Otherwise, why go to work? We say in the bentching (Grace after Meals) that G‑d is the feeder and provider for all. So if G‑d will support us, why must I schlep off to work?
Clearly, this is not the Jewish attitude. That’s why it is a commandment of the Torah to safeguard our health. Likewise, we are not to live dangerously by leaving roofs unenclosed or swimming pools unfenced or our doors unlocked. As they say, “Trust in G‑d, but lock your car.”
One may ask, is it not an expression of faith to leave it all to G‑d? To put our trust implicitly in Him that He will provide? That He will protect and guard us from accidents? The answer is an emphatic no. “G‑d helps those who help themselves.” Far from being a heretical statement, this is quite consistent with Jewish belief.
Elsewhere, the Torah states, “Hashem, your G‑d, shall bless you in all that you do.” Meaning that to succeed in any endeavor, we need G‑d’s blessing, but He blesses us in all that we do. So, in order to merit His blessing, we must first lay the groundwork and create the opportunity for Hashem’s blessings to work. It’s like the farmer who knows that the success of his crop depends on G‑d granting rain, but the blessing of rain will only help after the farmer has tilled, plowed, and planted.
Remember the story of the schlemiel who kept praying to G‑d three times daily that He help him win the lottery and solve all his financial problems. Day after day, he implored the Almighty to grant him his personal salvation via the lottery. When the lottery was drawn, unfortunately our schlemiel was not the winner. So he went back to shul the next day and bitterly cried out to G‑d: “Hashem, you let me down. I prayed so hard. Why didn’t I win the lottery?” And a deep, booming voice rang out from the Heavens, saying, “Because you never bought a ticket, dummy!”
This concept applies to everything in life. As Gary Player once said, “The more I practice, the luckier I get.” If you want to be mazel’dig, don’t depend on mazel alone. If you want to have nachas from your children, don’t rely on the luck of the draw that they will marry the right person. Parents have to plow and plant (and pray very hard) for nachas to happen.
In the words of the psalmist (Shir HaMa’alos, Psalms 126), “Those who sow with tears will reap in joy.”
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at www.ktav.com.