Monday, January 13, 2014

Can you Covet Everything?

Parshat YitroShmot 18:1 – 20:23
17 Shevat 5774 / Jan. 17 – 18, 2014

Can you Covet Everything?
by Shalom Kaiser, Moishe Hosue Community Member

This week's Parsha presents us with the Aseret Hadibro't - the ten commandments.  God descends upon Mt. Sinai while the Jews are gathered around it and, for the first time ever, God communicates directly to his just-chosen people, conveying the fundamental laws and ideologies in Judaism.

The last of the 10 commandments is as follows:

 לֹא תַחְמֹד, בֵּית רֵעֶךָ; לֹא-תַחְמֹד אֵשֶׁת רֵעֶךָ, וְעַבְדּוֹ וַאֲמָתוֹ "וְשׁוֹרוֹ וַחֲמֹרוֹ, וְכֹל, אֲשֶׁר לְרֵעֶך

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's

There's a strange redundancy here: Why, after specifying several items that one may not covet, does the verse go on to prohibit coveting anything that "is thy neighbour's?" Why not just state the general prohibition?

One possible answer is that the verse itemizes your neighbour's possessions so as to imply that the key to not being covetous is by looking at EVERYTHING your fellow man/woman has. We tend to covet specific things our neighbour has; we generally do not covet EVERYTHING about our neighbour. So whether your neighbour is riding around on his top-of-the-line ox, or showing off his brand new manservant, or plowing his fields with the sturdiest ass you've ever seen, you have to stop and take into account that this is not the entire picture.

You're probably thinking to yourself, "Never in my life have I been envious of any of those things." You're likely lying (see commandment # 9), but in any case, the issue crops up in our lives more often than we might think it does. Consider Facebook. Everyone is posting only their most charming, attractive self -- pictures, messages, statuses -- falsely representing their lives. We know there's always more than meets the eye..

The essence of this commandment -- the only one of the ten that is not action based -- is internal. It's there to teach us that being a good person, being successful and happy, cannot be had by looking at your neighbour. Don't for a second believe that he/she does not have trials and tribulations of his/her own -- many of which you are not privy to. You have to go inward, acknowledge your own unqiue challenges and blessings, and understand they are yours for a reason.
Shabbat shalom!



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