Audio LecturesKi Teitzei

Ki Teitzei: The Electrifying Fence

This article is based on a recorded lecture. You can listen to the lecture by clicking here. (You can also download the lecture by right-clicking   and selecting "save link as…").

The Value of Life

In this weeks Torah portion of Ki Tetzeh God instructs us to construct a fence around the roof of our new homes in order to prevent someone from falling off the roof and being killed (Deuteronomy 22:8 ). This commandment is the origin of the general directive to do what we can to prevent danger and bloodshed, particularly in our own homes. The image of the fence around the roof is the image of the epitome of the value of life.

The Mashiach Connection

The image of the roof also connects to the image of Mashiach. In Psalms 102:8 King David writes: "I have been diligent, and I have become like a lone bird on the roof."

The image of the bird is the image of Mashiach (as explained in Rabbi Ginsburgh's audio lecture on the Torah portion of Va'etchanan). Mashiach is described as a bird sitting in a nest in the Garden of Eden, waiting to redeem the world. In this verse in Psalms, the image of Mashiach is the image of a bird on the roof. In a related image in the Midrash, (Yalkut Shimoni, Isaiah 60:499), the Mashiach once again appears on the roof, this time as a human being.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe would often quote this Midrash, in which the Mashiach stands on the roof of the holy Temple in Jerusalem and turns to the Jewish People saying, "Humble ones, (humility is a basic characteristic needed to merit the redemption) the time of your redemption has come."

The Eternal Bird of the Soul

As birds obviously do not need a fence on a roof, the commandment to construct such a fence clearly relates to people. The verse supports the need for a fence by saying that "you should not put 'blood' (dam) in your home." The two letters of the Hebrew word dam —daletmem — are the two last letters of the Hebrew word for "man," adam (alef, dalet, mem). If a person falls off the roof and is killed, it is the dam that is being destroyed. Only the dalet and mem of adam need a protective fence. The first letter, alef, is not touched. It is the inner bird of the soul of adam, and is eternal.

Messianic Newness

Our verse specifies to construct a fence when we build a new home, implying that all old homes will have already been built with a fence. The new home also alludes to the new, third Temple. The concept of newness always relates to Mashiach, who teaches us the new, inner dimensions of the Torah. The commandment to build a fence around the roof of a new home is unique in its expression of consciousness of Messianic newness.

The Home — The Written Torah

The concept of the home also relates to the House of Israel and the lineage of King David and the Mashiach, called the House of David.

In our meditation, the image of the home is the image of the Written Torah (the five books of Moses, the Prophets and Scriptures). The Written Torah comes from the faculty ofchochmah, ("wisdom") and is a relatively male intellectual faculty.

The Roof — The Oral Torah

Our verse begins with the words "Ki tivneh" ("When you build…"). The Hebrew wordtivneh can also be read as tevunah, "deep understanding." Tevunah is the origin of the Oral Torah. (The oral tradition began with the Patriarchs. It is comprised of the laws and traditions passed from generation to generation). It is a relatively female mentality. When we build a new home, we build (tivneh) from the faculty of tevunah. Tevunah is the place in the mind that dictates that we must make a fence around the roof of a new home. In Kabbalah and Chassidut we learn that this commandment to actively protect life is one of the central and original thoughts behind the oral tradition of the Torah. It alludes to the origin and purpose of the Oral Torah, which is to create a fence around the Written Torah to protect it from spiritual danger.

The Fence Around the Roof

When we ascend in our consciousness to the high point, the "roof" of an idea or experience, we have reached its climax or epitome. It is precisely here that danger lies. Thus, the first teaching of the first mishnah of the Oral Torah is that we must make a "fence" (syag) around the Torah. If one doesn't have a fence at the high point of his new house — his new consciousness and new Messianic dimension of the Torah — he is liable to fall.

The Fallen Sparks

The word in our verse (which is part of the Written Torah) for "fence" is ma'akeh. The word in the first mishnah of the Oral Torah for a fence is syag. The numerical value of ma'akeh is 215, while the numerical value of syag is 73. Together they equal 288, one of the most important numbers in Kabbalah. 288 is the number of sparks that have fallen into creation after God created high-energy, unstable worlds, which collapsed. These 288 sparks dispersed throughout reality, where they are captured and hidden. The purpose of the descent of our souls to the world is to redeem these 288 sparks. When this is accomplished, the redemption will be imminent.

Mathematical Fencing

The number 288 is a double square — 2 times 12 squared. Thus, the average value of the words ma'akeh and syag is 12 squared. The initial letters of these two words, mem andsamech, equal 100, which is 10 squared. So we see that these two words fit together nicely.

If we calculate the triangles of 215 and 73 we will arrive at another amazing phenomenon. The triangle of a number is the sum of all numbers up to and including it. (For example, the triangle of 3 is 1 plus 2 plus 3 = 6). The triangle of 215 (ma'akeh) is 23, 220. The triangle of 73 (syag) is 2,701. The sum of these two numbers is 25,921. This number is a perfect square, the square of 161. 161 is another important number in Kabbalah. It is the numerical value of the Divine Name of God that represents tevunah, the faculty that builds a new home, as above. Tevunah is the spiritual force that creates the conditions in which the new dimension of Torah (the new home) is revealed. That new dimension has a roof, which is its epitome and summit. When the new Torah consciousness reaches that epitome, it needs to have a fence to protect it.


Although our meditation is based on an image from the Torah portion and is beautified by mathematical associations, its most important goal is to help us to better serve God. Let us explore the image of the fence in our Divine service.

In Kabbalah, the fence symbolizes a field of light that protects one from falling — both spiritually and physically. This light is called chashmal. (In modern Hebrew, chashmal means "electricity.") This word appears in the Bible only in the book of Ezekiel (chapter 1), in the vision of the Divine chariot — the deepest and most mystical part of the Bible. The meaning of chashmal in Ezekiel is the light of electrum, a certain color of light related to electricity. (The Talmud tells of a very spiritual child who once played with chashmal, became electrified and died). This light can be dangerous, but in our context it represents the secret of the fence that protects the person on the roof.

The Electric Fence

The Ba'al Shem Tov teaches that the secret of chashmal is the secret of the electric fence around the roof. He explains that in our service of God, chashmal represents the three-staged process of submission, separation and lowliness. Submission is being in a state of existential lowliness. This is followed by separation, the ability in the soul to clearly separate between positive and negative energies. The final stage of this process is sweetening, in which we reincorporate some of the negative energies into the positive, transforming the negative to sweetened goodness.

This spiritual service is the secret of the fence. The fence ensures that we retain the consciousness of beginning every moment anew with submission, and then progress to separation and sweetening. This consciousness is particularly crucial during our spiritual "highs," when we experience the Messianic powers with which God has endowed us. The gift of these Messianic powers makes us responsible for our own environment. When we begin all that we do with submission, we will be protected on the roof of our spiritual endeavors. In this state of lowliness, we can address our environment just as the Mashiach, saying "Humble ones, the time of your redemption has come." The redemption itself is the redemption of the 288 sparks – the ma'akeh and the syag.

Who is the Faller?

The Torah commands us to put a fence around our roof, adding the unusual phrase, "Lest the faller fall." Our Sages explain that "the faller" is someone who is predisposed to fall. In Kabbalah we learn that the quintessential "fallers" are the 288 fallen sparks, which are in a state of existential fall since the beginning of creation. The commandment of the fence and its power is to raise and redeem those fallen sparks.

This is the most important directive for us to fulfill. When we strongly identify with the oral tradition of the Torah, the mate of the Written Torah, we create a complete home with a foundation and a roof. When we add the electrified fence of submission, separation and sweetening, we pave the way for Messianic consciousness to redeem the 288 fallen sparks and subsequently to redeem the entire world.

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