Among the plethora of mitzvos that appear in this week’s portion there is one that the holy Arizal avers will bring the world back to its original ‘emptiness’ if not properly fulfilled.
When building a new house the Torah instructs, ועשית מעקה לגגך (דברים כב ח), you shall make a fence for your roof.
This rather simple directive warns us to protect others from harm on our property. A roof with access can pose a danger to those frequenting it and therefore needs extra protection to prevent an accidental fall. Seems quite simple and forthright and something logic would commonly dictate. What is it about this command particularly that warrants the continuation of life as we know it and a return to ‘nothingness’ in its absence?
When encouraging us to build this fence the Torah goes on to forewarn, ולא תשים דמים בביתך, so that you will not place blood in your house, כי יפול הנופל ממנו, if a fallen one falls from it.
The Talmud notes the description of the one who we are preventing from falling as the ‘fallen’ one, intimating he is already labeled ‘fallen’ even prior to his having dropped off the roof.
The Talmud remarks that indeed he has already been destined to fall already from the ‘six days of creation’, as the script for each one’s journey has already been written. Nevertheless despite this inevitable demise, the Torah calls on us not to be the partner in his death by making sure the roof is secure and safe. As the famous adage goes, מגלגלין זכות ע"י זכאי וחובה ע"י חייב, for meritorious things are executed through meritorious people, while things of ill-fortune are executed through guilty people.
The implication of this idea would seem to state that in truth this man is doomed and will certainly die, despite any efforts we may undertake for his safety, it is just that one who is careless will be held accountable for his inaction nevertheless. But if it is inevitable why should one bother in the first place if it makes no difference anyway?
Harav Avigdor Miller derives from here that the ultimate reward and punishment for our actions have nothing to do with ‘accomplishment’, for that is beyond our control. What we are accountable, however, are for are the ‘choices’ we make, regardless of the outcome. That is the only thing solely within our dominion.
This idea may be the deeper understanding of a fascinating acronym revealed by the great Reb Shlomo Leib of Lentshna, who teaches that the letters in the word מ-ע-ק-ה stand for the notion, הרהורי עבירה קשה מעבירה, the thought of sin is more difficult than the sin itself. What we are capable of ‘doing’ is in Hashem’s domain, but the corrupted thoughts and ideas that run rampant in our minds is ours to control and restraint.
The Holy Alshich though takes this a step further.
He first notes that within the paragraph that discusses this mitzva of Ma’akah, it arbitrarily adds the injunction not to ‘sow your vineyard with a mixture of seeds’. He suggests that the Torah is teaching us that just like among the natural world there exists an order that must be kept to allow for the its appropriate development, so too we must realize that there is a reality when two Jews join together that enables the choice of one to impact on his fellow’s fate. Whereas were this ‘fallen’ one to plod on his own he might not be worthy of being saved from falling off the precipice, now that he has come into the domain of one who is attentive to the wellbeing of a fellow Jew, as exhibited in his consciousness to secure his safety by erecting a fence, he may actually save this man from his erstwhile destiny.
The dictum that good things come through good people and bad from bad, is not merely Hashem’s placement of the appropriate ‘chess pieces’ upon the ‘board of life’, but rather the idea that ‘I’ can effect good by the choices ‘I’ make and actually save another from his destined doom.
Perhaps we can now begin to fathom the Arizal’s claim regarding this mitzva.
We often live our lives focused on our personal objectives without contemplating the profound influence we have in fashioning the amorphous nothingness that existed before creation into a world of marvelous form, design and purpose.
The legendary Reb Yehuda Zvi of Stretin alleges that the word מ-ע-ק-ה serves as another remarkable ellipsis:קבלת עול מלכות השמים the acceptance of the yoke of the Heaven.
Isn’t that the sum total of the lesson of Ma’akah, that not only are we responsible for our thoughtful choices but they impact the world and the lives of others in a real way. Our action can mean the difference not only for assuring our reward but can give life to others, saving them from their destinies.
One of the famous allusions to this auspicious month of Elul is in the verse: ומל ד' אלקיך את לבבך ואת לבב זרעך (שם ל ו), Hashem, your G-d, will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, with the letters of א-ל-ו-ל, embedded in their exact order in the words corresponding to ‘your hearts and the hearts...’
The saintly Reb Yehoshua of Ostrova points out that the key to ‘circumcising’ our hearts, making ourselves sensitive to the world that surrounds us, is indicated in the word used to mean circumcise, ו-מ-ל. These letters correspond to the verses, ועשית מעקה לגגך, you shall make a fence for your roof.
We are each rebuilding in Elul anew our 'בית', our proverbial homes, our identities, our very selves. גגך, your roof, refers to our minds that lay atop our body. גגך is equal to twenty six the numerical equivalent of the Tetragrammaton, the Name of ה-ו-י-ה. The letters in the word מעקה, fence, adding one for the כולל/itself, equals the same value as יראה, fear of Hashem.
We must become supremely aware of the greatness within us that can transform a world through the mindful choices we make, in fashioning a universe that will joyfully express an awareness of the exquisite relationship we have with its Creator.
צבי יהודה טייכמאן