By R’ Mordechai Young
When I was living in the dorm at Yeshiva Sh’or Yoshuv, a roommate and I had an interesting conversation. He told me his goal for the year was to get married. I told him that’s not a good goal because even if he is ready and doing his hishtadlus, maybe his future kallah is not ready. He retorted that for any goal, like finishing a masechta, one needs Hashem’s help. I said that was different and a much better goal. I was just trying to help him avoid a possible letdown. (Perhaps I should have kept my thoughts to myself?) He did get married a few years later.
In this week’s parashah, we are commanded to put up a protective fence (ma’akeh) on our roofs if people can go up onto it. Many roofs in those days used to be flat, which enabled people to go up onto it. The Torah teaches us to make this fence to stop bloodshed and prevent someone from falling off the roof.
The mefarshim come to explain the interesting words in the end of the pasuk, “So that you will not place blood in your house if a fallen one falls from it.” The Torah calls the one who would fall off the roof the “fallen one” instead of “a person falling.” The Kli Yakar (bringing the Abarbanel’s explanation) teaches that the last word of the pasuk means the fence, as opposed to the simple explanation of the person fell from the roof (it). This brings forth the teaching that a person who was meant to die will fall even with the fence there. This explains why the pasuk said “the fallen one”—he was meant to fall.
The Kli Yakar continues that the fence only protects the one who is not meant to fall. This deserves an explanation: If he does not deserve to die, then what purpose does the fence provide?
When I was a teenager, my mother, a’h, once told me not to play basketball in the park of a middle school near my home. I had never played there, but instead hooped at the local public park. However, once I heard I should not go there, you know where I really needed to go!
My friend Roni came over, and I took him to the middle-school park. We got a 3-on-3 game together. I saw the other team’s facial reactions and general attitude as threatening. My friend and I were scoring and took a lead. I went over to Roni and told him to play calmly and not to talk smack. These guys would not take it well. He went up for a layup, with a new move, showboating a little. The defender shoved him hard against the fence. Roni hit the concrete hard and could not get up. Then they proceeded to kick him while he was down. I ran over to protect him, but I was stopped with a punch in the face. The guy who punched me told me he didn’t want trouble. A little late for that, wouldn’t you say? With Roni down and this guy being a few years older than me, with two friends to help him, it was trouble. I could not fight or run away, leaving Roni behind.
He wanted my sneakers, so I had to say goodbye to my new Charles Barkley basketball sneakers. I helped Roni up and we struggled to get back home. I really should have listened to my mother’s wisdom—seemed like a prophecy. I had to learn the hard way.
The Gemara in Shabbos (32a) that quotes the pasuk about the protective fence also teaches that a person should not put himself in a dangerous situation. If he does, one of two things happens. He could lose merits from good deeds he did, which would save him. If he does not have good deeds to protect him, then it’s not the Charles Barkley sneakers he will have to say goodbye to, but to life itself.
We see that just being in a dangerous place requires protection. It could be the person on a roof did not deserve to fall, but just being there requires the fence to save him. This is why the Kli Yakar states that it only protects one who does not deserve to fall.
I think one lesson the Torah is teaching us is to put in our efforts, to make the protective fence. Try to stay out of trouble, but the end result is up to Hashem. We are required to put in our efforts, but all is decided by our King.