The Difference Between the Roof of the Beis HaMikdash and the Roof of a Synagogue

In his description of the height of the Beis HaMikdash,1 the Rambam mentions “a guardrail, three cubits high.” Similarly, the Sifri states that the verse,2 “When you build a new house, you shall make a guardrail for your roof,” teaches us that the roof of the Beis HaMikdash requires a guardrail.

This requirement is somewhat problematic, for our Sages explain3 that the phrase “your roof” in the above verse is an ex­clusion, freeing the roofs of synagogues and houses of study from this obligation. Since these are not “your roofs,” i.e., the private property of individuals, there is no obligation to con­struct a guardrail. Seemingly, the same concept should apply in regard to the Beis HaMikdash. Its roof is not “yours,” and seem­ingly, should not require a guardrail.4

The Rogatchover Gaon attempts5 to resolve this difficulty on the basis of the Sifri’s statements6 that the obligation of building a guardrail is incurred immediately after a house is completed, even before one has begun to dwell in it. Accord­ingly, since the Beis HaMikdash was not consecrated until after its construction was completed,7 the obligation to build a guard­rail was incurred before the building was consecrated. And therefore, the guardrail was necessary. In contrast, there is no obligation to build a synagogue in this manner. Therefore, there is never a time when a guardrail is required.

There are, however, several difficulties with this explanation:

a) The leniency mentioned by the Sifri is the opinion of only one Sage and is not accepted by all authorities.8

b) The reason that a synagogue or a house of study does not require a roof is not because it is consecrated, but because it does not belong to a particular individual. It is not “your roof.”

c) When a house that requires a guardrail is afterwards dedicated as a synagogue, the obligation to construct the guard­rail no longer applies. Seemingly, this concept should also apply in regard to the Beis HaMikdash.

Thus the question raised originally remains unresolved: Why is it necessary to construct a guardrail for the roof of the Beis HaMikdash?

Our Partnership in the Beis HaMikdash

It is possible to explain the Rambam’s ruling by referring to Rashi’s explanation9 as to why it is not obligatory for a synagogue to have a guardrail. Rashi states that the reason is because “no individual has a portion in it, for it also belongs to [Jews] overseas.”

It appears that Rashi’s intent is to differentiate between a synagogue and a house owned by partners. Our Sages10 explain that the roof of a house owned by partners requires a guardrail. Although it cannot be called “your roof” (singular), the rationale cited in the verse11 which serves as the prooftext for the mitzvah — “a person may fall from it” — still applies. Therefore, a guardrail must be constructed for such a roof.

Why does the same concept not apply to the roof of a syna­gogue? There too, seemingly, the possibility of falling exists.

Rashi’s commentary clarifies this issue: Although there is every reason for the roof of a synagogue to require a guardrail, there is no obligation, because there is no one — or no group of people — responsible to meet this obligation. In this context, the members of the community are not considered as partners who own the synagogue, because all Jews, even those overseas, have a portion in it.

There are several halachic contexts in which a synagogue is considered as the joint property of the community.12 Neverthe­less, since the obligation to erect a guardrail is incumbent on the person who dwells in the home, and Jews from all over the world have a right to use synagogues everywhere, there is no one individual or communal body on whom to place the responsibility for the guardrail of a synagogue.13

In regard to the Beis HaMikdash, by contrast, the partner­ship role of the entire Jewish people is emphasized to a greater extent. For the mitzvah of building the Beis HaMikdash is in­cumbent on every member of the Jewish people,14 [and must be fulfilled by the people as a united communal entity].15 For this reason, the funds to build the Beis HaMikdash were donated by the people as a whole.16

Thus the Beis HaMikdash can be compared to a house owned by partners, i.e., every member of the Jewish people. Since there is the possibility of someone falling from the roof of that house, the same communal authority that takes responsibil­ity for the construction of the Beis HaMikdash as a whole, is also obligated to construct its guardrail.17

The Ultimate Dwelling

A difficulty, however, still remains: A guardrail is required only for a building which is used as a dwelling.18 Indeed, this rationale is also given to explain why the roofs of synagogues and houses of study do not require guardrails.19 Why then is a guardrail required for the Beis HaMikdash? Is the Beis HaMikdash a dwelling?

There are several approaches through which this difficulty can be resolved. Firstly, we find that the fundamental definition of a dwelling is a place where one eats.20 It is permitted — albeit only when extenuating circumstances require it — to eat sacrifices of the most holy order, קדשי קדשים, in the sanctuary of the Beis HaMikdash.21 Therefore, the Beis HaMikdash is considered as a dwelling, and requires a guardrail.

Moreover, in a larger sense, the Beis HaMikdash can be considered as a dwelling, not for man, but for G‑d, for it is His eternal resting place.22 Since the building serves as His dwelling, but since it is also used by man, the possibility exists that a per­son may fall from its roof; therefore a guardrail is required.

* * *

The roof of the Beis HaMikdash is significant, for “Mashiach will stand on the roof of the Beis HaMikdash and tell the Jewish people; ‘Humble ones, the time for your Redemption has come.’”23 May we merit to see this pronouncement blossom into total fulfillment when Mashiach leads the entire Jewish people, to Eretz Yisrael, to Jerusalem, and to the Beis HaMikdash. And may this take place in the immediate future.

Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXIV, Parshas Ki Seitzei