Our portion this week, Ki Tetze, connects with one of the major topics of the modern world: health and safety. Surprisingly the need to introduce health and safety laws on buildings isn’t new. Despite what we may feel about it, health and safety legislation is from Heaven and in the Torah. We are told to build a fence around a rooftop that might otherwise be a health hazard to other people. Apart from the obvious that we’re meant to care for the wellbeing of others there are deeper messages here too.
As much as we might not want it to be true, we are co-workers with the Lord in this creation. We may seek passivity as if we just lean back and let G-d do it all, but no, such an attitude screams out spiritual laziness if not actual physical laziness too. We were created as stewards of creation, meaning our positive and pro-active response to G-d and His works is required, indeed the very existence of the Mitzvot tells us that He wants us to interact with the physicality of the creation around us, actively bringing holiness and righteousness into the broken world we all inhabit. We are meant to work WITH the Lord in our callings and task, choose to help and not hinder His work and be a solution to peoples’ needs for redemption and salvation, not be someone who merely compounds the problems. In other words we are to act responsibly towards each other (hence putting a fence around our open rooftops to stop people inadvertently harming themselves), and consider the outcomes of our actions and thoughts. Acting responsibly includes for instance how we deal with and treat others in the area of ‘correction’. We may think with our words of ‘advice’ or ‘loving judgement’ we’re just putting a fence up and protecting someone, but our actions may in fact cause as much damage and hurt as if no fence was there at all. Our words and responses to people and situations can reveal things other than our desire to be ‘helpful’.. Knowing ‘how’ (and even when) to build that fence in a RESPONSIBLE way is critical to real spiritual health and safety. Equally, and here it connects with Yeshua’s parable of the talents, our response might be to not build at all, that building a house is too dangerous given the obvious traps of falling off a roof. So better off not building the house in the first place. Such cautious behaviour (and that can be spiritual too) leads to an irresponsible spiritual attitude. The commandment is surely only applicable if a house is built, but we are MEANT TO BUILD. To deny our task is to fight His will. The Mitzvot are there to ensure that AS we carry out His will we act responsibly towards each other.
I think as a leader I feel this acutely, but not only in that capacity. One of my catchphrases on the leadership training programme is ‘never knowingly do harm’, yet some will always inevitably be hurt. You cannot lead in the Kingdom of G-d without casualties. Do we therefore do nothing and bury our talents, never start the building programme because the roof bars might not hold? Or do we obey the Lord, knowing that we shall act as responsibly as we can and fearfully bear the weight of hurt inadvertently caused. The Torah demands that we act with responsibility, but that doesn’t entail burying our callings. Building irresponsibly and not building at all are both ways to avoid G-d’s call on your life, yet in reality only reflect on our desire to not act responsibly.