Building Safe Communities and a Safe Society

There is a story of a man who lived by the river. He heard of radio reports that the river was going to rush up and flood the town and residents should evacuate. The man said, “I’m religious. God will protect me. God will save me.” The water level rose up and the neighborhood was flooded. A neighbor came by on a row boat and said, “Hop in.” But the man remained steadfast in his beliefs. “God loves me and will protect me,” he said. The waters rose to the point where the man had to find safe haven on his roof. A helicopter overhead dropped down a ladder to take him to safety. But he refused to grab on and shouted up to the pilot. “I am religious and God loves me and will protect me,” he reiterated. The man drowned. And when he stood face-to-face with the divine, he challenged God. “I am a religious man. I pray every day. I wrap tefillin. I keep Shabbat. Why did this happen?” And God replied, “I sent you radio reports, a rowboat, and a helicopter.”

Parashat Ki Tetzei teaches us:

“When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it” (Deut. 22:8).

We are told to build a small fence around the roofs of our homes as a sign of protection. Lest one falls off the roof, the fence serves as protection for them. And it is more than just the homeowner covering their bases, ensuring that legal action won’t be brought against them, like a biblical equivalent of a “Caution: Wet Floors may be Slippery” after an area has been mopped or a “Contents may be hot” warning on a disposable coffee cup.

This teaching exemplifies our need to make sure all of our spaces are safe spaces. We cannot build sacred space if we do not have safe space. We cannot depend on God’s protection if we, ourselves, are unwilling to act as God’s messengers and walk in God’s ways to offer safety to each other. It is our responsibility to make sure each of our homes are places where we all feel loved and embraced. And it is our responsibility to make sure our schools and houses of worship do the same.

Let us all put metaphorical parapets on our roofs. Let us make sure that all who walk through our doors feel safe, feel loved, and feel accepted. And instead of waiting for God’s protection, let us see each other as God’s angels, as God’s messengers, and find protection in the arms of one another just as we would under the wings of the Shechina.

-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

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