I remember when I first learned the term ‘hippie rig.’ I was driving a double decker school bus converted to run on vegetable oil. My mentor, Jonathan Dubinsky, was telling me of his friend Pesach. “Pesach,” he said, “can hippie rig anything to run, but to make something work properly, to build a thing that lasts, that takes some expertise.”
At that moment, I dedicated myself to the pursuit of doing things right. As my father, my teacher, always said, “measure twice, cut once.” However, as my four companions and I drove our crazy bus across the US, I kept finding myself in situations I simply didn’t know how to do well. My lack of knowledge more than once left the work of my hands good enough to keep us going, but I never came close to a sustainable fix. In effect, I gained a proclivity for hippie rigging.
Since then, I have often found myself in situations where hippie rigging has come in handy. From building a sukkah to improvising a shelter in the back country, the ability to make something work has served my needs. At times, this comes from a lack of expertise, skill, or knowledge. However, in other cases, hippie rigging is born out of convenience, and often times sheer laziness.
It is the second category to which our parsha speaks. “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for the roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt if anyone should fall from it” (Devarim 22:8). Through this simple command, the Torah is teaching me that when I am responsible for something, I cannot cut corners. I must follow through to the full extent, thereby ensuring the safety of those around me.
This is a lesson I most often feel on the large scale – like when I duct taped the muffler in place only to have it fall off, leaving us breathing in fumes – but it surely applies to the little things as well; if for an interview I am willing to put on a tie, then I should also shine my shoes.
The current zeitgeist is to feel that the world is falling apart at the seams. In such a situation, I feel called to big action – to do, to make, and to save. I feel the need to build more and more, and as soon as the house is ready, we need people living in it – there is no time for a silly parapet.
Our lives are filled to the brim with things that function – things that are made to be used and thrown away. However, I hear Moshe’s call to build a fence – to put in the extra effort and make something lasting.
I pray that as we hear the shofar blast, we wake up a little to our folly. Perhaps then we can re-examine where in our lives we may have hippie rigged a little to much, and return to fix it properly.