When You Build a New House

August 28, 2020
By Beth Mordecai
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When You Build a New House

This week’s Torah portion is Ki Teitze. It is a series of miscellaneous laws that Moses issues to the people in advance of entering the Promised Land. This set of laws is truly miscellaneous. They range in category from family law, to domestic laws, to returning lost objects and helping one’s neighbor. The parashah contains some agricultural laws about planting mixed fields and plowing with two different types of animals. There are marital laws, citizenship restrictions into the people of Israel, laws of conduct in wars, how to take a vow and the power that resides therein. Really the list goes on and on. It is a strange collection.

Nevertheless, we seek out meaning in our Torah even from the what seems random. There us one particular law that is not really connected to any of the others and I believe that it holds a message for us as we journey closer to the High Holy Days, and as we deepen our work of self-betterment through the work of teshuva and repentance.

Deuteronomy 22:8 reads “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring blood-guilt on your house if anyone should fall from it.” Pretty straight forward. When building a new house, put a fence around your roof so that people don’t fall off. Which brings up the question, how many of us have a) ever built a house, and b) built it with a flat roof? I suspect that most of our living places are not flat roofed. How then are we to apply the lesson of this verse to our lives today?

For a response we turn to the world of the Hasidim. Rabbi Noach Sholom Berezosky, the Netivot Shalom, writes about this verse in his Torah commentary. He explains that “build a new house” could mean to reinvent oneself, to become a new person and to really start over. Much like what we strive to do through this season – reinvent ourselves. In that light, he says that the roof of this new house/new person is of course the head. The places that need guarding on the head are our eyes, ears, mouth, and nose – 7 openings on our head (2 eyes, 2 ears, 2 nostrils, 1 mouth).

He goes on to teach that when we engage in the deep work of teshuva, we would be well served by beginning at the top – with our heads – and be mindful of guarding the 7 openings or gates through which we engage with the world. Practically, what that means is to be careful about what our eyes see, and what we choose to be blind to. It means to be vigilant about what we hear and how we use our ears. And it means to be cautious with what we take into our bodies through our mouths and nose. This is the starting place of reinvention and becoming our best selves.

My prayer and blessing for us all this week, is that we might merit the determination and the motivation to accept the challenge of self re-invention, to rebuild our own houses stronger and more resilient.

Shabbat Shalom

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