Written for Shalom Bayit, Jewish Women Working to End Domestic Violence.
In this week’s parsha, it says that when you build a new house, you should make a guardrail for your roof, so that you will not cause blood to be spilled in your house. This is very a practical teaching. In ancient times, people used their roof the way we use a patio or backyard today. There was a danger that people would be relaxing or studying or socializing on the roof, or that children would be playing on the roof, and someone would be near the edge and accidentally fall off. Having a guardrail around the perimeter of the roof was a safety device to prevent serious injury or worse.
Today, we have building codes in many places in the world that state that stairs must have banisters, balconies must have railings and roofs that are used for meeting and socializing must also have railings.
In our lives, sometimes someone rails against us. They hurt us instead of helping us. They hurt us instead of loving us. They hurt us because something inside them is hurting and they express their inner hurt in an outward manner that hurts us.
Relationships are precious; the space we share with others is sacred. We need to feel safe and to be safe in our homes and in our lives in order to live fully and meaningfully.
In this week’s parsha, it also says that if you happen to be going along your way and you see a bird’s nest on the road, or in a tree, or on the ground, and if the nest contains eggs or newly hatched baby birds, and if the mother bird is sitting upon her young or upon the eggs, you may not take the mother with the young. Instead, the Torah teaches us that we should send the mother away, and only then, when the mother is not in the presence of her young, may we take the eggs or the young birds. It says in the Torah that we should send the mother away before taking her young in order that it might be good for us, and that we might live a long time.
The Torah exhorts us to consider the feelings of the mother bird and to honor her instincts to protect her young. In the same way, we must honor the feelings of our fellow human beings and treat one another with respect.
Jewish tradition tells us kol yisrael areyvim zeh bazeh. All Israel is responsible one for another. As Jews, we are called upon to take responsibility for placing a guardrail around the community. When, God forbid, a child is mistreated, we can call Child Protective Services or the Department of Social Services in our area. When elders are abused, we can call Adult Protective Services or an elder abuse hotline such as the one at Jewish Family and Children’s services.
When we ourselves are in danger, we need to know whom to call. The Jewish community is blessed with an organization called Shalom Bayit for Jewish women and teens who have been victims of domestic violence. If you, or someone you know, is in danger and needs protection, Shalom Bayit may be able to help. This Shabbat and throughout the year, there is literature available here at the congregation about how to reach Shalom Bayit, Jewish Women Working to End Domestic Violence. Please avail yourselves of these resources and pass them to those you know who might need them.
If you know someone who is in danger, and if you can find a way to get them help that doesn’t endanger them, you will be performing the mitzvah (good deed) of maintaining a guardrail for the safety and protection of the community.