Conditions in snow-filled Brooklyn this week had me thinking about the talmudic obligation to maintain roads. The Mishnah (Mo’ed Katan 2a) states that road repair is so important that it may be performed on the intermediate days of holidays. The Gemara (5a) quotes a Baraisa that explains the importance of this work:
From where do we know that if they do not go out and do all this work that the Torah places any resulting deaths on their heads? As it say, “And the blood shall be on you” (Deut. 19:10).
The danger posed by unsafe roads not only obligates public officials to repair the streets but also lays blame for resultant deaths on those charged with this job. Because of the importance of maintaining safe roads, the Temple-era authorities would conduct annual repairs. The Mishnah (Shekalim 1:1) states that a month before Pesach, on Shushan Purim, the annual project began. The Tosafos Yom Tov (Mo’ed Katan 1:2) explains that once a year they would inspect the roads. However, if at other times broken roads were found, they would immediately fix them, even on intermediate days of the holiday.
One might think that the pre-Pesach road repairs were preparations for the massive Pesach pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the Temple era. R. Yechezkel Abramsky (Chazon Yechezkel, Shekalim 1:1, chiddushim) explains that this is only partially correct. Based on a manuscript text of the Tosefta, R. Abramsky asserts that the authorities established an annual repair to the roads. When during the year should they do this? Because of the Pesach pilgrimage, they established it a month prior. However, even that annual project was because of the basic obligation to save lives by maintaining safe throughways.