Parshas Ki Seitzei
The idea of the necessity of a fence on one’s roof and exposed staircases
and high landings is a very logical and realistic one. The Torah itself
advances this simple reasoning by stating that otherwise one may fall from
that exposed area with painful if not tragic consequences. However halacha
and practicality indicate that not everyone is obligated in this mitzvah and
that there are physical instances where such a fence is impossible to
construct or is even unnecessary.
Nevertheless, the moral imperative that drives the mitzvah seems to be
omnipresent and always operative. A house, a home, a family always needs to
be protected, both physically and morally. Just as negligence in failing to
erect a fence around one’s exposed roof is a cause for monetary and even
criminal liability, so too negligence in failing to construct the moral
fence to protect our home and family from the ravages of a rather depraved
society is seen to be a serious transgression.
In raising children, as well as in governing society generally, there can be
no doubt that fences have to be fashioned and protected. The rub always is
as to how many fences and where they are to be placed and how high the
actual fence should be. When it comes to the issue of the physical fences
around our rooftops, halacha answers all of these questions for us. But when
the issue is regarding the moral fence that we must construct for our family
and ourselves, there we find minimal guidance.
Just as every physical fence must be constructed to conform to the
dimensions of the roof it protects – a circular fence will not completely
protect a rectangular roof – so too there is no one-size-fits-all moral
fence that is appropriate for every home and family. Tragically, in today’s
Jewish world, there are many homes that have no moral fence at all
protecting the house and family.
Everyone is allowed, if not even encouraged, to live a life without limits,
restraints or moral discipline. And at the other end of the spectrum of
Jewish society there are homes where the fence has been constructed too high
and is too constrictive as to impede and prevent healthy individual
development and constructive discovery and innovation. It is therefore
obvious that knowing where, when and how to create this moral fence that
will safeguard the Jewish home is the main challenge of parenting and family
The Torah in this week’s parsha speaks of ben sorer u’moreh – a rebellious,
undisciplined youth – who will grow to be a very destructive force in
society. Such a child in most cases represents the failure in the family in
erecting and enforcing the proper moral fence in the house. That negligence
of safeguarding the home spiritually, emotionally and morally will
invariably come back to haunt that family and all society generally.
There are no magical ways to build these necessary fences. Every family and
home is different and unique and there is only the common necessity for all
families to erect the proper and fitting fences within their home and
family. Patience, wisdom, restraint and prayer are key ingredients in
accomplishing this vital task.
Rabbi Berel Wein