Photo Credit: Mendy Hechtman / Flash 90
Along the Israel-Syrian border.

The famous verses in Devarim: “And you shall watch over yourselves very carefully” (4:15); and “But take good care and watch over yourself very carefully” (4:9), are the source in the Torah regarding safety and protecting oneself from danger (see Berachot 32b). We find an additional source for protecting oneself from danger, in our Parsha (Devarim 22:8): “When you build a new house, you shall make a guard rail for your roof, so that you shall not cause blood [to be spilled] in your house, if someone should fall from it.”

In discussing the law of guardrails, the Torah adds the phrase: “so that you shall not cause blood [to be spilled] in your house.” This phrase is brought down by the Rishonim and even the Rambam himself (Hilchot Rotzeach VeShemirat Nefesh 11:4), as the source for guarding oneself from all dangers. The Baal Hayeraim (210 {dfus yashan 44}) even counts this as a positive commandment, and explains that from here we learn that one must protect himself from anything that is harmful:

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“You shall not cause blood: And You shall fear the Lord your God, and fulfill that which He commanded you in Parshat Ki Teitzei: “When you build a new house, you shall make a guard rail for your roof, so that you shall not cause blood [to be spilled] in your house.” The Torah here is not only referring to guardrails, but to every single thing that is harmful and causes injury.”

There seems to be a difficult problem with this verse. The Torah states “When you build a new house,” but why only a new house? What if one purchased an old house from the Canaanites that did not have a railing? Doesn’t that also require a guardrail?

The Chatam Sofer asked this very question in a shocking responsa that he wrote, about a woman who had laid down upon and killed her baby, who was all of 31 days old. There he explains why our verse specifies a “new house” for the law of guardrails. He answers that if it was an old Canaanite house, there would most probably already be a guardrail in place. The concern is actually specifically with a new Jewish house. We are worried that a believing Jew may not put up a guardrail precisely because of his faith: he believes that he will not need it, since Hashem will protect him!

According to the correct interpretation of our verses above, it can be deduced that: HaKadosh Baruch Hu will only protect us if we protect ourselves! A believing Jew should never be lax, God forbid, in being careful and guarding against danger because he believes that God will protect him. Quite the opposite! A believing Jew knows, that above and beyond the common sense, basic human need and responsibility to take care of oneself, we also have a religious, Torah obligation!

The Rambam uses this verse in Ki Teitzei, to teach us about the obligation to protect ourselves from other dangers, which are similar to that of building a roof. For example, preparing proper infrastructure in order to prevent harm. These are the Rambam’s words (Hilchot Rotzeach VeShemirat Nefesh 11:4 -5 {see also Shulchan Aruch: Choshen Mishpat -427}):

This requirement applies both to a roof and to any place that might present a danger, and thus cause a person to stumble and die. For example, if a person has a well or a cistern in his courtyard, regardless of whether there is water in it or not, he must erect a sand wall ten handbreadths high around it or make a cover for it, so that a person will not fall in and die. Similarly, it is a positive mitzvah to remove and guard against any obstacle that could pose a danger to life, and to be very careful regarding these matters, as it states in Devarim 4:9 : “But take good care and guard your soul very well.” If a person does not remove the dangerous obstacle, and leaves it to cause harm, he abrogates the observance of a positive commandment, and violates the negative commandment: “Do not cause blood to be spilled.”

The Rambam writes that a person must take great precaution when building a cistern, digging a pit, or any other dangerous obstacle. In light of this, a person must be careful to guard his home and yard against anything that is dangerous. He must install railings and bars wherever needed; make sure there are no dangerous pits or obstacles; remove trees that are likely to fall; and take care of any problem that could be harmful.

This also applies to road safety. A person should take care not to park his car in dangerous places which are forbidden by law, and which could cause harm to others. For example, parking next to a crosswalk in a way that blocks the pedestrian’s field of vision; parking in a way that blocks other drivers’ field of vision, or that forces them to drive dangerously to get around. Also, a person should always make sure that the vehicle they are driving is roadworthy, and will not endanger the public.

Currently, this applies to the Coronavirus as well. Today’s reality is complex and not straightforward. We want to live normal lives, and that is good. However, we must take precautions and follow the rules: wear masks, keep a distance, use hand sanitizer, etc.

With God’s help, we will take good care of ourselves, and all those around us, and God will take good care of us!

*Translation:Rebbetzin Sara Krengel 

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Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon, is the founder and chairman of La’Ofek (formerly JobKatif) which has enabled more than 2,650 individuals to break the ceiling of poverty and enjoy financial security. He is an internationally acclaimed author, lecturer and educator and posek in Halacha whose responses to individuals and communities have been pivotal in shaping the contemporary Jewish world. In recognition of his outstanding achievements, Rav Rimon was awarded the Katz Prize in 2018, the Moskowitz Prize for Zionism in 2014 and the President’s Prize for Volunteerism in 2008. He is Rabbinic Head of the Jerusalem College of Technology and serves as the Rabbi of Alon Shvut South in Gush Etzion.