In the Torah portion of Seitzei we learn1 : “When you build a new home, you must place a guard-rail around your roof.” The purpose of the guard-rail — as the Torah itself goes on to say — is to keep people from falling off an unenclosed roof.

In a spiritual context, the meaning of this commandment is as follows:

Our Sages tell us2 that “One’s wife is [considered as] one’s [entire] home,” so much so that Rabbi Yossi said:3 “I never called my spouse ‘my wife’…but ‘my home.’ ”

In this context, “when you build a new home,” refers to the beginning of one’s marriage. When a person marries and sets up a home, he must take upon himself the yoke of earning a livelihood. At such a time a person’s spiritual status may easily plummet.

The Torah therefore reminds the individual that since he is beginning a new home and a new lifestyle, with a greater degree of immersion in physicality, he must build a guard-rail. Clearly his previous manner of spiritual service will not suffice, and he must take upon himself additional guard-rails so as not to take a spiritual tumble in thought, speech, or deed.

At times man’s body is also referred to as his home.4 In terms of man’s spiritual service, this alludes to the general service of birurim , wherein man seeks to purify and elevate his body and his portion in the physical world.

This manner of service is known as a “new home,” for prior to the soul’s descent into this world it had not the foggiest notion as to what the physical world and the spiritual service within it entails.

Furthermore, since the corporeal is infinitely distant from the spiritual, the service of purifying and uplifting this physical world is truly something new. When a Jew serves G‑d in this manner, the world itself becomes an abode for G‑d.

This concept of an abode for G‑d is also something “new.” Prior to this manner of service, the degree of G‑dliness that manifested itself in this lowly world was restricted. However, as a result of this manner of service, this physical world becomes an abode for G‑d — G‑d Himself is manifest within this world.5

Understandably, building such important new edifices has a tremendous impact upon the builder. He, too, is refined and uplifted in a “new” and infinitely greater manner — to a point that his soul reaches an even higher state of existence than it enjoyed prior to its descent within a body.6

The “vessel” that must serve as a receptacle to this new and lofty level of elevation is the act of self-nullification. For the only way one can attain a degree of infinite elevation is to totally nullify oneself before G‑d, thereby freeing oneself from the limiting encumbrances of one’s previous level.7

This, then, is the inner meaning of a guard-rail. The protective and preventive measures — the “guard-rail” — that the person undertakes in the course of his spiritual service are an expression of his self-abnegation and acceptance of the Heavenly Yoke. This enables him to be a fit vessel to the “new home.”

There is a practical lesson in this: A person should not shut himself off from the rest of the world; he must build a “home,” a dwelling place, for G‑d in this nethermost world. For it is only through the descent within this world that the ultimate and truly new ascent is accomplished, Above as well as below.

On the other hand, one must know that in order to transform the physical into a vessel for G‑dliness, a person must make a guard-rail — he must remain apart from the physical world’s grossness and corporeality. While it is true that he must busy himself with physical things, they should remain insignificant to him; he knows and feels that the only reason he occupies himself with corporeality is in order to fulfill the Divine intent of transforming this world into a home for G‑d.8

Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XIX, pp. 208-214.