If you build a new house, you shall make a fence for your roof, so that you will not place blood in your house, if one who is falling shall fall from it. (Devarim 22:8)
Included in Parashat Ki Tetze, the weekly portion that contains the most mitzvot of any parashah in the Torah, is the instruction to build a protective barrier around one’s roof to prevent another from falling and dying. It is a mitzvah wherein the Torah gives a practical purpose achieved by its observance — it prevents fatal accidents.
Rashi is bothered by the fact that the Torah refers to the accident victim as “hanofeil” — i.e., “the one who is falling.” He explains: “This one (who falls) is fit to fall (deserves to fall), but nonetheless, let not his death come about through you, for the Heavenly Court makes merit come through one who is worthy, and that which is detrimental (come about) through one who is guilty.”
The Gemara (Taaneet 18b) tells of a wicked Roman emperor who sought to execute two Jewish brothers.
When Trajan sought to kill the important leaders Luleyanus and his brother Pappas in Laodicea, he said to them: “If you are from the nation of Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah, let your G-d come and save you from my hand, just as He saved Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah from the hand of Nevuchadnetzar.”
Luleyanus and Pappas said to him: “Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah were full-fledged righteous people, and they were worthy that a miracle should be performed for them, and Nevuchadnetzar was a legitimate king who rose to power through his merit, and it is fitting that a miracle be performed through him. But this wicked man, Trajan, is a commoner, not a real king, and it is not fitting that a miracle be performed through him.” Luleyanus and Pappas continued: “And we are not wholly righteous, and have been condemned to destruction by the Omnipresent for our sins. And if you do not kill us, the Omnipresent has many other executioners. And if men do not kill us, the Omnipresent has many bears and lions in His world that can hurt us and kill us. Instead, the Holy One, Blessed be He, placed us into your hands only so that He will avenge our blood in the future.”
Trajan remained unmoved by their response and killed them immediately. It is said that they had not moved from the place of execution when two officials [diyoflei] arrived from Rome with permission to remove Trajan from power, and they split his skull with clubs.
We learn from this incident that one who causes harm to befall another was placed into this situation because he already has a Heavenly debt to pay. If he were clear of any wrongdoing, he would only be chosen by Hashem to deliver a reward. Even the cattle of a righteous person are not used by Hashem to bring harm to another who deserves some mishap.
We see this in our parashah. Hashem commanded us to take precautions and install safety measures in our homes. The Torah refers to the victim as the “one who is falling” — present tense — meaning deserving to fall somewhere. Hashem will choose the site of the “accident” on a property belonging to one who owes a debt in Heaven.
We see the same principle played out when someone “accidentally” kills another. The “accidental” perpetrator must flee the wrath of an angry relative and live in captivity, restricted to a Sanctuary City. Our Sages explain that the “victim” deserved death at the hand of Heaven and the “killer” was due exile for a previous transgression. Hashem placed them together to mete out justice to both.
In the season of soul-searching and repentance we read this parashah so that we might identify our own failings and properly repent to avoid Heavenly discipline. If one has caused harm, it is a signal to search for something one might have done that would make one a candidate chosen by Hashem to harm a deserving victim. Should one repent, Our Creator has many other messengers to carry out His bidding.
Seek, and pray that you find!