Spiritual Guardrails

For a month before the High Holy Days begin with Rosh Hashanah, we have the month of Elul. It is a time to reflect on who we are, how we are doing morally and spiritually, and what we want to do better in the coming year.

Rabbi Avi Schulman of Temple Beth Torah in Fremont sent out this short provocative teaching.

 13 Elul 5779
Have you ever been on top of your house? It’s not easy to keep your footing if you have to go on your roof. That’s especially true if your roof is slanted.  

This week’s parasha contains a practical piece of advice. Among many laws pertaining to everyday life, the Torah states: “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it” (Deuteronomy 22.8).

Current housing codes do not require you have a guardrail on your roof. But a sage of our people offers a spiritual interpretation of this verse.  

I believe it was Rabbi Menachem of Chernobyl who noted that the Torah’s reference to a roof can also symbolize our thoughts. That is, our mind represents our roof so to speak.

Rabbi Menachem cautions we should put a guardrail around our thoughts in order to save us from falling into danger. Everyone at times has bouts of negative thinking. Sometimes we doubt our own value and question our self-worth.

However learning Torah, fulfilling mitzvot, and deeds of kindness help us stay grounded. They are like guardrails that protect us when we are vulnerable. They enable us to maintain our balance, even when we step onto unsteady terrain. 


In my work I am often speaking to people about sensitive topics. I am acutely aware that my words could hurt someone. My personal guardrail is to weigh how my thoughts are transformed into words. Am I conveying how concerned I am for this individual? Is it clear that I care about them? Is it appropriate to reveal a personal flaw and how do I make clear that changing one’s approach is not an admission of error as much as it is a time to rejoice in personal improvement?

I must also tune into my own negative thoughts. One fellow professional told me, “I remind myself that this is not my life, nor am I responsible for this person’s choices. If they choose something I think is ‘wrong’ I should not take it as a personal failure.” To this I would add, how can I continue to be useful to someone who is taking a route on which I anticipate there will be trouble? And, of course, what might I learn from their choices!? Could they teach me something brand new? How exciting.

Torah is alive and changing. In studying our sacred texts we are stimulated to grow in mind and deed. How can I be a better person this coming year? How can I do a better job of understanding the concerns of my families and couples? What can I do better for them?

I would love to hear from you how you interpret this teaching. Do you have a roof? A guardrail?