Have You Put up Your Parapet?
In the Torah portion for this week, there is a famous verse that reads:
כִּ֤י תִבְנֶה֙ בַּ֣יִת חָדָ֔שׁ וְעָשִׂ֥יתָ מַעֲקֶ֖ה לְגַגֶּ֑ךָ וְלֹֽא־תָשִׂ֤ים דָּמִים֙ בְּבֵיתֶ֔ךָ כִּֽי־יִפֹּ֥ל הַנֹּפֵ֖ל מִמֶּֽנּוּ׃
“8 If you build a new house, you must construct a guard rail around your roof to avoid being culpable in the event someone should fall from it.” Though the Sages disagree about whether or not it is a mitzvah to build it – mitzvah, in this case being defined as to whether or not one says a blessing upon building it (since ‘the Sages obligated us in this thing because of danger and we do not recite blessings on things that are due to danger.’) – the consensus is that it is indeed because of danger but also because building a guard rail on the top of the roof is the same kind of thing as putting up a mezuzah. So, though it is to protect anyone from falling off the roof, it is also there as a symbol. But a symbol of what?
Here is what Rebbi Levi Yitzchak, a Chassidic personality wrote: “This is the intention in the verse: “when you build a new house” – when you experience some new joy – “you shall make a parapet” – you should raise this joy higher and higher through the letters, as above. This is the significance of “ma-akah (parapet)”, since we build the parapet on the highest part of the house.
But, this also is the meaning behind the word “legagekha (your roof)”, to bring the joy into the letters. As we know (Zohar II 126b), the power that animates the letters is Hashem, HVYH (the Name of God); the power is in the very letters of the Name HVYH. And, the numerical value of “gagekha” is, like that of HVYH, twenty-six.”
The language is a bit terse but basically he is saying that the ‘parapet’ is on the highest part of the new home. So when we build the parapet, we are sharing the joy. And when we share a joyous moment, we burst out in blessing in what we call the Shehechiyanu moments. These are the moments of blessing where we acknowledge that, with God, we accrue so many blessings.
But we are not just sharing the joy. There is another side to this as we can see from Reb Yitzcahk. There is a symbol to the parapet. It goes around the top of the home and it looks like a crown. A crown – that parapet which goes on the roof – the word ‘roof’ having the same numerical value as ‘YHVH’ – God’s name! When we put the parapet on the roof, we are, symbolically crowing God. We are openly proclaiming that God is the One really in charge. Our blessings are really acknowledgement of God’s gifts.
As human beings, we are taught from a very early age that if we work hard enough at something, we can achieve it. As Jews, we are a people dedicated to education and learning so that we can master the world around us, education being the one essential key to succeeding. But we sometimes fall into the trap of self-congratulation and of believing that we have done it on our own. Too often we fail to see the angels that surround us, our teachers, coaches and different inspirations which guide us and were there for us at the right times of our lives. They are the builders and we are the built. We may have achieved great things, but almost never alone. Thanking God for their presence in our lives is an acknowledgement that we can never live in a soloverse – a universe where only we exist. All creation, all of God’s world, comes together to create and is always creating.
There are things that no amount of training or education will ever get us to the level we may wish to be. I long ago accepted that I can never be a great athlete. You may have the same regrets about something, as well. There may be disappointment and sadness but there is a spiritual antidote to that feeling: though I may never be an athlete, I still have the wherewithal to stand on my own legs. Not surprisingly, there is a blessing for that. It does not say “O God, thank you for making me stand straight now grant me the power and strength to run faster than anyone else.” No. Rather is says “Praised are You, O God, who raises the bowed down.”
We are often bowed down by disappointment or sadness or simply not feeling strong on a particular day. But the blessing, the real blessing, is that we won’t stay that way and that there is joy and blessing in waking up, being able to move, and even being able to get out of our holes of sadness and disappointment. For that, we give thanks to God and, especially, for God’s angels who encourage and sustain us in our moments of weakness and when we are in need of strength.
Have you said your blessings today for your gifts?
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