When you build a new house, you must build a guardrail for your roof, so that you will not place blood in your house if a fallen one falls from it.1

In days of old, flat roofs on homes were, apparently, the norm. Whether for entertainment spaces or storage areas, I’m not sure, but the Torah this week cautions us to build a secure maakeh, a parapet or guardrail, around these flat roofs. Sure, we believe in miracles, but we may not rely on them, and all safety precautions must be taken.

“When you build a new home” can be understood literally, to mean that a flat roof needs a physical fence. But it can also be understood figuratively, in reference to a bride and groom who may be building a new home. They, too, need protective cover, some form of spiritual security.

And it goes beyond homes and houses. Any new endeavor requires checks and balances to ensure it remains safe.

Does Judaism decry change? Of course not. Is something treif just because it’s new? G‑d forbid. Not at all. Progress is permissible, positive, and necessary. We should be building, developing, expanding, and growing all the time, never satisfied with the status quo. That’s what progress is all about. At the same time, we must remember our guardrails.

Some examples come to mind.

Nuclear power can generate much-needed energy to millions of homes across entire continents. Nuclear medicine, too, can bring healing to patients for whom traditional treatments were inadequate. But, left unbridled and unchecked, this ‘new house’ can destroy the world!

Or what about genetic engineering? It can solve many health problems, and eliminate genetic diseases which have been the cause of so much human misery. It brings new advances in fertility treatments offering people the previously unattainable gift of parenthood. But, left to its own devices, you end up taking “The Boys from Brazil” from science fiction to reality. Imagine laboratories cloning supermen!

Then there are all the new technologies we enjoy today. The Internet, social media, instant global communication—all fantastic—but without a “guardrail” they can be downright dangerous and very much abused. Do we want to spawn a generation of illiterate zombies? A fantasy-obsessed planet of digital dunces who cannot speak more than three mono-syllabic words to another human being? A generation of immature, impersonal, techno-robots? And how many youngsters have lost their innocence by unlimited access to all the wrong websites?

And what about in the Jewish world?

At the turn of the last century, millions of Eastern European Jewish immigrants came to the New World, establishing new homes in new countries. But for too many there were no guardrails.

Caught up in the pressures of eking out a living, many were so single-mindedly focused on affording their kids a better material life than they themselves had had, and sadly, had little time left for their children’s Jewish education. The malady was so commonplace that it gave birth to a well-known cliché: They were so busy giving their children what they never had that they forgot to give them what they did have, i.e., a Jewish upbringing and an appreciation of their Jewish identity, history and heritage.

Today, too, when families relocate from one country or community to another they often feel that they need all their resources to resettle and cannot possibly afford a private Jewish day school education for their children. But without a Jewish education, what chance do they have to resist the enticing lure of the melting pot?

Sometimes we make these choices knowingly. What can I do, Rabbi? I live too far from any Jewish community. But why did you move there in the first place? It reminds me of the teenager who killed his own parents and then appealed to the court for mercy on the grounds that he was an orphan!

Progress is permissible, and indeed desirable, but not at any cost.

Please G‑d, we will all build, grow, and develop new homes, communities, ventures, and innovations. And at the same time, let us remember to build those fences and railings to safeguard our security, both physically and spiritually.