The Bible commands the owner of a home with a flat roof to put up a ma’akeh – a fence – around the roof, so that blood will not be on the owner’s hands (Deuteronomy 22:8). Sefer Hachinukh, an anonymously written book detailing the 613 commandments (13th century) explains the underlying principle of the command to build a ma’akeh (Commandment 546): In our lives it is imperative that we take nothing for granted as far as safety goes. Some people are blessed with “nine lives” like the proverbial cat. Nevertheless, relying on miracles is not the Jewish way, so we must do our part to secure our lives by putting up safety barriers and not taking any unnecessary risks.

To cite two examples, the Chinukh warns against drinking directly from a lake or river without a utensil because of the danger of swallowing a leech. We are also cautioned against putting money into one’s mouth, simply because one never knows who or what has come in contact with the money.

While many people today no longer have flat roofs or homes with roof access that would require a ma’akeh (except for apartment houses), the modern day equivalent of this mitzvah for most people might be putting bars or safety locks on upper story windows, a railing around a deck, and erecting fences with locked gates around swimming pools. The spirit of this law warns against damaging and doing harm to our bodies and to others.

This Treat was originally posted on July 30, 2008.

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