You Shall Not Covet: A Mitzvah for Mental Health

The philosophy of wealth of the hegemonic culture surrounding us, is one of material excess, coupled with a luxurious attachment to the superfluous and the decadent. As such, it also constitutes a sure recipe for a life of constant dissatisfaction, a chronic sense of illusory paucity, and overall existential discontent.

And this is why the final, and the most psychologically demanding of the Ten Commandments, is all about mental and emotional self-mastery and self-restraint. About resisting what political sociologist Robert Gurr called “relative deprivation.” “Relative deprivation,” is the ludicrous sense of envy and false shortage that a person who inhabits a beautiful and spacious condo might experience, when beholding his friend’s twenty-million-dollar mansion in Bel Air.

Envy of others is as fierce and as ferocious a psychological affliction as inhabiting hell itself, teaches us the Bible in the Song of Songs. And jealousy, reminds us the midrash in Ethics of the Fathers, is a psychological pathology which “removes a person from this world,” by breeding chronic emotional embitterment and smallness of soul.

The Tenth Commandment, which cautions us against the mental pitfalls of self-destructive cravings, is not so much a mitzvah formulated for the sake of Heaven, nor for our fellow mortals, rather – it is there to save each and every one of us, as distinct individuals, from a life of emotional disempowerment and psychological reactivity. From the claws and clutches of a life of lustful passivity, rather than an existence typified by redeeming self-initiative and proactivity.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Sessler

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