Liability. Personal responsibility and the utmost care for fellow humans were discussed in the Torah way before lawyers and lawsuits appeared on the judicial scene.
The Torah warns us this week that “when you will build a new house, you shall make a fence for your roof so that you shall not place blood in your house when a fallen one falls from it” (Deuteronomy 22:8). Simply stated, the Torah warns us to insure that our homes are not unsafe and that we take precautionary measures to ensure the safety of occupants and visitors alike.
Noteworthy, however, is the difficult expression, ” house when a fallen one falls from it.” Though one who falls is obviously the fallen one, he is not “a fallen one” until he actually falls. Why then, does the Torah state that the fallen one falls from it? Shouldn’t it rather have said when the “standing one shall fall from it”?
The Supreme Commander of all Allied forces, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, was inspecting a position held by the British in North Africa.
Accompanied by the officer in command, Ike was touring the area in his jeep when all of a sudden a German plane came sweeping down guns blazing from its turrets. The British officer jammed on his brakes, hauled the American general from the jeep, pushed him into a ditch, and lay on top of him until the threat passed.
When the enemy was out of sight, the officer helped Eisenhower to his feet and nervously inquired of his welfare. Eisenhower, touched by the young Brit’s watchfulness thanked him profusely for taking such personal precautions for his safety.
“That’s all right, General,” smiled the officer, “I just didn’t want anything to happen to you while you were in my sector!”
The Torah alludes to the ever-pressing question of fate and destiny versus free will. Rashi comments that one who gets hurt or worse was a marked man. After all, if not for some Divine reason, he would not have fallen. However that is no excuse for anyone’s property to be the vehicle of misfortune. The man who falls was obviously Divinely ordained as a fallen man, but just as good fortune befalls humans through other good humans, misfortune befalls them through unfortunate ones.
He who has not secured his property from negligence is responsible no matter what Hashem has ordained for the victim. True, he who falls is a fallen man, but if he falls on your property the Torah considers you responsible despite its Divine pre-ordinance.
The Talmud in Gittin states that when the first Roman General Nero Kaiser approached Jerusalem to attack it, he approached a young Jewish boy and asked him to quote a verse he had learned in his Yeshiva.
The child answered by quoting Ezekiel, 25:14, “I will lay my vengeance upon Edom (Rome) by the hand of my people Israel.” Nero Kaiser immediately exclaimed, “The Holy One wants to destroy his Temple and then wipe his hands on me?” Nero fled and became a proselyte from whom the great Rabbi Meir was descended.
Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman of blessed memory, was in the United States in the months prior to the outbreak of World War II. He insisted upon returning to his Yeshiva in Baranowicz, Poland, to be with his students that he left behind. He knew that his return was wrought with the danger that would ultimately claim his life, but he refused to stay in the United States claiming that “every bullet has its address.”
True faith tells us that every bullet has its address and Hashem is the ultimate Postmaster who coordinates the delivery. The Torah alludes to the fact that he who falls was truly a fallen man a clear implication of the concept of Divine fate and Heavenly Providence. But in doing so, it also warns us that as humans, we do not have to be an accomplice to G-‘ds plans of misfortune. He will manage that alone. We must fence our properties and guard their occupants. Because our job is to be only the vehicle and intermediaries of good fortune.
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Dedicated in memory of Jesse Chatzinoff Yishai ben Zev Volf by Pinchas & Danna Chatzinoff
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Associate Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.