“When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a parapet for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thy house if any man falls from thence.” (Deuteronomy 22:8).
According to Jewish law, when someone builds a new home, they are obligated to put a rail on the roof so that people can’t fall off. Some people may argue that if you go up onto a roof, the onus is on you to be careful. In addition to the ordinary care one must take in dangerous situations, we must put barriers in place to protect ourselves and others. The obligation to build a rail does not only apply to new homes, rather to all homes.
According to these verses, if you do not make your home safe with precautions such as rails, you are responsible for anyone who gets hurt falling from your roof. Human life is so incredibly precious, and we must do everything in our power to protect it. As it says in Deuteronomy 4:15, “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully.” We are obligated to safeguard our own lives, as well as the lives of those around us. The Torah aids us in “baby-proofing” our lives, pointing out basic, yet important, things that we may not have thought of such as a rail on the roof.
The Rabbis have extrapolated from this verse in Deuteronomy the importance of properly protecting a dangerous area. People with wells or pools in their yards must also put up fences. Not only that, but, we are obligated to teach our children how to swim, and we are forbidden from purposely putting ourselves in dangerous situations.
It is important to note that the commandment to build a rail on a roof does not apply to a home whose roof is not in use. In Israel, it is very common to have a flat roof. People use their roofs for all sorts of things such as hanging up laundry, storage, and even as a place to hang out. It is a true blessing to be able to fulfill the word of God by putting rails on our roofs in the land of Israel, where they are being put to use in a practical way.
It is important to internalize the messages of the guardrail and carry them with us. They do not only apply to physically dangerous areas but also to spiritual and emotional dangers. We must remember to put guard rails up when necessary in all areas of our lives. But remember, the rail on one’s roof must be a “handbreadth” tall, which is approximately three feet. We are building rails, not walls. Protect yourself, and your relationships with your loved ones and God, but remember to be present in this world and not cut yourself off with unnecessary, harmful walls.