The Torah remarks: “If you see your fellow’s ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your fellow.” (Deuteronomy 22:1) While I doubt that any of your neighbors has a pet ox or sheep, the intention is clear. If we see a dog or cat wandering across our streets we have a responsibility to find its owner and return it to them. Our tradition stands against the motto of “to each his own” or “it is not my problem.” We are responsible for our neighbors. We have an obligation to our community.
This summer we were forced to replace our roof. In many ways this was the most unsatisfying of home repairs. It is of course far from inexpensive. It does not change the appearance of the house in any appreciable manner, the way, for instance, a new and less expensive coat of paint would. Still, we recognized that this would be our responsibility when we purchased the home ten years ago. Our home is now 25 years old and it would be unreasonable to expect that the roof would last many more years.
The Torah portion commands: “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it.” (Deuteronomy 22:8) In the
Middle East roofs are flat and are still used for drying
clothes, socializing and enjoying the cool evening air. The Bible therefore demands that even though
the roof might belong to an individual family the responsibility it entails must
extend to the community at large.
That in a nutshell is the Torah’s perspective and its most important teaching. Our responsibilities extend beyond the individual and single family to the community and even strangers. While a parapet is not the same as shingles, the intention is the same. Too often we think that our homes are only about what we see and what we need. We believe that they are about making our families more comfortable. While that is of course true, the Torah teaches that it does not end there. Their beauty is not for us and us alone. Their upkeep is not simply for our families but also for our neighbors.
Imagine how different the world might be if we viewed the upkeep of our homes as a responsibility not only to ourselves but to our neighbors as well. Then even the mundane repair of a roof can become a holy task. Then even our homes can become not only for our own sake but for our neighbors as well.
The other day my neighbor remarked, “Hey Steve, by the way the new roof looks great.” Perhaps its ordinary shingles have meaning beyond my home’s four walls.