Daniel D. Stuhlman

Ki Teitzei — Guard Rails

Parasha Ki Teitzei

This week we read no less than 41 mitzvot by one count including 27 obligations and 47 prohibitions.  Some deal with family issues, some are communal oriented, and others are strictly between the individual and God. Some are so rare such as a prohibition to marry a descendent of Amon and Maov and some are everyday concerns such as placing a guard rail on a rooftop balcony.

There are two mitzvot intertwined that normally we don’t think about the intertwining connection – remembering what Amalek did and remembering to put up a guard rail on a roof balcony.  Remembering the war with Amalek requires nothing more than a bit of mental energy.  The remembrance takes almost no time or energy.  Putting up a guard rail takes planning, materials, executing of the plan.  When we moved into the house where I currently live, we had a roof area that was accessible from the second floor.  Since the previous owners did not install any railings, we couldn’t use this area. (The area now has two bedrooms and is part of the house.)  The guard rail on the roof protects users of the roof.  Remembering what Amalek did protects the nation.  Amalek attacked the weak; a weak person needs protection from the danger of a roof.

Both mitzvot remind us that we need to protect ourselves and our community from attacks.  Amalek and every human enemy attacks our physical being.  They attacked the most vulnerable.  Since they did not have a “fear of heaven” they attacked just to cause harm.  The unguarded roof is a quiet hazard that can be avoided or remedied.  If we keep   the other mitzvot by acting in a holy fashion, we learn to help others and build a strong community.  The guarded roof and protecting the vulnerable should teach us that safety rules are just as important as mitzvot performed by the individual. Physical barriers guard and separate what is allowed and not allowed. Barriers remind us of the spiritual rules for Shabbat, festivals, food, etc. Rails are limits that make safer buildings, and religious (or communal) rules build up our lives spiritually.

The business lesson is that we have to have a safe environment.  Safe not only from physical threats, but also from psychological and other non-physical challenges.  Anyone can be weak one moment and strong in another.  We must create the rules that guard and protect us like rails on a balcony. A new house, a new building, and new relationships are always under construction that need the same kind of renewal as the new year celebrated during Rosh Hashanah.

Discussion questions

  1. The parasha also talks about a rebellious son. What are the duties of a parent and community to raise responsible children?
  2. In what ways can we protect ourselves from non-physical attacks?
  3. This week while driving I saw cars that slowed down and stopped on yellow before entering the intersection. I saw other cars attempt to enter the intersection without regard to the cars wanting to go in the other direction. What would happen if we had no traffic rules?  How do limits help us have a better world?


About the Author
Lives in Chicago, Illinois USA. Academic and synagogue librarian for more than 40 years. Graduate of Columbia University in the City of New York, Jewish Theological Seminary, and Jewish University of America. MHL and DHL in Tanah. Gabbai Sheni of Kehilath Jacob Beth Shmuel in Chicago for more than 40 years.