This week’s parasha is part of the long series of mitzvot that Moshe reviews. There’s a one-liner that I want to focus on today:
Taken literally, this is a strangely specific law, and the halacha takes it as an archetype, a בנין אב, for what we might call municipal codes:
But why this particular example? Rashi addresses another question, one of context. We’e talked about the mitzvot of ספר דברים being organized as an expansion of the 10 commandments; this section is about לא תנאף: the sanctity of marriage, extended to the sanctity of family, even respecting maternal instincts (שלוח הקן). But then why guardrails?
That doesn’t quite answer the question why this specific mitzvah. Ibn Ezra alludes to the fact that Moshe is addressing a generation of people who have never even seen a roof. This mitzvah is part of the message that they are entering a land to settle and establish a society:
It’s not one of the מצוות תלויות בארץ but it is dependent on being in the land, and the need to establish building codes is part of what it means to create a civil society. More than that, establishing a society means that we cannot live in isolation,that we are responsible for each other:
It is an extension of the sanctity of family life to respect the sanctity of civil life.
There’s another subtlety about this halacha: כי יפל הנפל. The victim is not a נופל; the goal is that they not be a נופל at all.
Grammatically, this is called “proleptic”, which I found out from an interesting article about being toast:
In the Torah, the use is more than grammatical, as Ibn Ezra hints, הוא דברי נבואה:
And the gemara puts it even more strongly:
The idea is that I have to take responsibility. I cannot say, “Everything is determined by G-d. If G-d wants him to fall, he will fall. If not, nothing I will do will change that. Why should I care?”. מגלגלין זכות על ידי זכאי. I have to do the right thing, then ה׳ assures me that the right consequences will follow. It’s the classic dialectic of השתדלות vs. בטחון. David brings it up when running from Saul:
But that’s not our job. In our relationship with others, we effectively have to deny ה׳'s השגחה. We’ve cited several times the famous saying attributed to the Baal Shem Tov:
So one little law teaches us about what the Torah has to say about theology, theodicy, society and mutual responsibility. All of Torah connects together: