Safety First! – A Weekly Letter From Rabbi Davis – October 26, 2018
A few nights ago, we heard a beeping sound coming from the landing at the top of the stairs. We went and checked, and it turned out that it was the smoke detector. The battery had died and needed to be changed. The problem was, we didn’t have the right kind of battery. Since we couldn’t disconnect the detector and since it was too late to go out to get a new battery, we just shut our doors of our bedrooms and went to sleep. Luckily, we are sound sleepers!
The next day, we went to the store and purchased the right battery. We installed it. Problem fixed, we thought. But we kept hearing the beep. So, we took the battery out and made sure it had been put it in correctly. Still, the beep persisted. We vacuumed the detector to remove any insects or dust. Still, it kept beeping. Then it hit us, the beeping was coming from somewhere else. There were four smoke detectors in each of the four adjoining rooms. We went room by room, stood by each detector and waited. No beep. We were at a loss. All the smoke detectors checked out. Then suddenly, we figured it out! On the landing was a carbon monoxide detector plugged into the wall whose battery was dead. It turns out the smoke detector was fine all along. Problem solved.
This simple house repair was not just a way to stop an annoying beep, it was a mitzvah. The Torah commands us, “Safety first!”
We read in Deuteronomy 22:8: “When you build a new house, you shall build a railing for your roof lest anyone fall from it.” In biblical days, people used their flat roofs as a living space. The Torah, therefore, obligates residents to affix a railing to protect themselves from falling. The railing must be a minimum of 30 inches high and strong enough to support a person leaning against it. Later, the rabbis expand the applicability of this mitzvah saying that we must not use a rickety ladder; we must fence off a ditch, repair a wall in danger of collapsing, etc. That is, we are to take proactive measures to ensure safety.
The modern extension of these examples is installing smoke, carbon monoxide, and radon detectors, fire extinguishers, providing ladders for emergency exits from second floors, reviewing escape plans and more. Among other reasons, this emphasis on fire safety makes sense given the preponderance of candles in Jewish rituals.
At work and at home, we practice fire drills. We replace old batteries, test detectors and more. Doing so, fulfills not only building and safety codes, but mitzvot. In the words of the Torah, “take care to protect your life” (Deut. 4:9).
Rabbi Alexander Davis
*The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) encourages the habit of changing batteries when you change your clocks! A reminder that we “fall back” next Sunday, November 4.