Home Safety is a Mitzvah

Image: Life preserver hanging on a wall. Photo by tookapic.

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

We often think of spirituality as a high and lofty subject, but Jewish spirituality can be a gritty pursuit. At its best, it permeates our daily lives, for the mitzvot [commandments] often address very practical matters.

The commandment above is one of my favorites. It addresses the question of home safety: put a railing on your roof so that no one will fall off. The rabbis extended this to include the principle of all home safety matters: if I have a loose stair, or an unlighted entry, or a tricky throw rug, the Torah commands me to fix it, lest someone be injured.

I’m engaged with this mitzvah right now, because I’ve begun my Passover preparations. Every year at this time I check my “earthquake supplies” (really, emergency supplies) to make sure that I can take care of myself, my family and my two elderly neighbors should a big earthquake hit or some other disaster complicate life in the Bay Area.

I do this as part of my Passover prep because it’s very convenient time to do it. One of the things I do is cart last year’s canned tuna and peanut butter to the Food Bank. It’s all still good, and someone will benefit, but when/if there’s trouble, I won’t be stuck eating ten year old peanut butter for a month. I promptly sell the renewed supplies to my non-Jewish son, who is the official owner of my emergency stash, so I can still observe a kosher Passover.

Silly? Nope. I have vivid memories of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which was not “The Big One” but was certainly the Bad Enough One which wrecked our home and disrupted our lives for more than a year. The next big quake may very well cut me off from water and food for an extended period, so I prepare.

If you don’t live in earthquake country, you still need to be ready for emergencies. Should something bad happen in your neighborhood, can you lay hands on these things?

  • Clean (probably bottled) water (1 gallon per day per person)
  • Nutritious food (high in protein and/or calories)
  • Can opener
  • Flashlight, with extra batteries
  • Battery-operated or crank radio
  • First aid kit
  • Prescription meds
  • Emergency blanket or wrap
  • Shoes
  • Copies of essential personal documents (whatever you’d want to have if the house burned down, God forbid)
  • Chargers for electronics like your cell phone
  • Phone numbers and contact information
  • Copies of passports and driver’s licenses
  • Cash in small bills (ATMs may not be working)
  • Baby supplies (if needed)
  • Pet supplies (if needed)

I also have a roll of duct tape, a multi-tool knife, a bottle of detergent, a whistle, my ham radios, spare eyeglasses and a spare bottle of propane.

There are also things I don’t keep around, because they decrease the safety of anyone in my house: guns and cans of gasoline top that list.

I hope that we’ll never need this stuff. I hope you will never need your emergency supplies, either. But if you need a push to update your kit, now you’ve got it: it’s a mitzvah!



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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

10 thoughts on “Home Safety is a Mitzvah”

  1. I have subscribed to your blog for a while. As a Jew I find fascinating information on your website. However, this post also pulled strings to my radio-operating heart. So here I am, in all my years as a ham (strange monicker fot a Jew), this is the first time I run into a fellow Jewish ham radio operator. Shalom and 73!


  2. Thanks for this, Rabbi Ruth. I need to de clutter. I know. And knowing it’s a mitzvah gives me a wee bit of impetus ……

    And this:
    “Copies of essential personal documents (whatever you’d want to have if the house burned down, God forbid)”

    Oh, indeed yes. Flashback when I read that, to my mothers death. It was unimaginably dreadful in every way( except for being told – though whether it’s true or not .I dont know; sometimes I think they were just trying to help by saying that. I’ll never know – that she didn’t suffer, as the smoke would have made her unconscious) some days it comes back and smacks me as though it’s just happened. Today’s one if those days…..any spare prayers would be very welcome…..my Hebrew name is Miriam Alexandra bat Marie Patricia


  3. This made me think, as we only recently moved to earthquake country (Washington state) and we live west of I-5 now, which is what will apparently be wiped out when the big one hits. We aren’t prepared AT ALL… but I definitely need to get on that!

  4. Your list of emergency supplies puts me to shame Rabbi Ruth. Here in Israel, although they also talk about the “big earthquake” we’ve been expecting for decades, what is much more immediate is war and missile attack.

    We had a taste of that nearly 2 years ago, during the last Gaza war, when we came under extensive missile fire. Thank G’d here in the center of Israel,near Tel Aviv, we never got to a stage where shops were closed or didn’t receive supplies, but down in the south near the border the residents were in dire straits, at least those who hadn’t been evacuated. The army and also brave and generous Israelis came to their rescue, driving down south delivering supplies, and central area residents opening their houses to the southerners so that they could live in safety and take refuge until the fighting was over.

    We were told by the Home Front command to prepare our bomb shelters and keep supplies similar to your list, but I admit I never quite got that far. I did have batteries and chargers and our documents and a certain amount of water, but I don’t know how long it would have lasted. I think denial played a big part in my negligence. It’s all too awful to contemplate.

    10 years ago, in the Second Lebanon war, my daughter was living in Kiryat Shmona on the Lebanese border, and she too ended up in a similar situation as the Gaza border residents. After a few days of being shut up in a bomb shelter with 3 very small children and her husband in the army, she solved the problem by getting in her car with the kids and driving to our place where she stayed for a whole month.

    It was a very scary time.

    1. I can sympathize, Anne! I lived in a basement apartment in Jerusalem from June 2002 until June of 2003, during the Second Intifada and the beginning of the Iraq War. You will recall that there was a big scare about the Iraqi’s having nerve gas or bio weapons or something which of course turned out to be nothing at all. But I have vivid memories of training with the gas mask, setting up a “sealed room” and learning the location of the nearest miklat.

      I did the water and food supplies as ordered, but I also laid in a bottle of Scotch and a lot of chocolate!

      That year I learned a deep respect for the fortitude and aplomb of the average Israeli. I pray for the day when such things will not be necessary for anyone, anywhere.

      1. Oh wow, I didn’t know you had lived in Israel. You certainly chose an “interesting” time to be here! Though in truth it is always interesting times here (interesting as in the Chinese curse).

        I well remember that time, and our getting out our gas masks to try on for size. We all did it with aplomb because we had been there, done that before, in 1991 during Gulf War I. And then we really were on the receiving end of scuds. I admit to being absolutely terrified during that war. The noise of the scuds combined with the Patriots was deafening and the house shook like a leaf. I was always surprised to find ourselves alive and our house intact after each attack. After that war, anything else seems relatively easy.

        Getting our sealed room (our bedroom) ready at the time was quite a business: by the time we got in enough water, all our gas masks (we had 3 kids at the time), a radio, a phone, a bucket for a toilet, duct tape to seal the door, prayer books, books of Psalms, toys for the kids, changes of clothes in case we had to run outside… there was barely room for all of us in there!

        In summer 2014 I either ran down to our building’s miklat (shelter) or just stood in the reinforced corridor in our apartment but I felt very exposed.

        But I have made a “strategic” decision that if we come under such sustained missile fire again I’m heading for the hills. Literally. To the hills of Samaria where my children now live, in big houses with proper “safe rooms” (bomb shelters which double as bedrooms), and which never come under such attack since they are close to Palestinian population centers which our enemies try to avoid.

        May we never need to use our emergency supplies, whether in earthquake or in war!

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