Parashat Yitro describes the majestic event of God giving the Ten commandments to the Jewish nation, on Mount Sinai, by God himself. Later on, during the same parasha, He also gives the, the Torah and additional mitzvot. This “package” of commandment and mitzvot constitutes the hard core of the covenant between people of Israel and God.
The tenth and last commandment is perhaps the most difficult of them all to implement:
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his servant and his property, his ox and his donkey, and everything that belongs to your neighbor“.
Man is commanded not to have feelings of greed and possessiveness towards something that is not his, even if it is highly desirable. This commandment sounds like one that only very righteous and virtuous individuals are able to implement. Even those who believe in free choice and the ability of man to restrain himself in his practical behavior, still continue to perceive the hidden passions and desires as instinctive, and therefore uncontrollable.
When Rabbi Abraham Eben Ezra, who was a great poet, philosopher, scientist and biblical commentator in 12th century Spain wants to explain the great content of this commandment, he uses a parable:
The same way that it’s obvious to a peasant that it’s pointless for him to covet to marry the king’s daughter, so should an educated person know, that a beautiful woman or wealth, are not bestowed to one just because of the person’s wisdom or education, but only because God has given it to him! For this reason, the educated man shall not covet his neighbor’s wife, knowing it’s pointless, and that not only is she’s forbidden to him by God, but that she should be out of his eyes more than the king’s daughter to the peasant. The peasant does not covet the king’s daughter, just as he does not desire to have wings to fly in the sky.
The simile is no less wonderful than the example, and it is relevant even today: the possessions and assets we have, our spouse, and the people we have in our lives, are all gifts from God. As much as we try to get something that God does not intend for us, it is condemned to fail.
The words “Do Not Covet” command us to see everything in our possession as a gift from God. Accepting this concept will make us not covet anything which does not belong to us. The Torah recognizes that a person’s desires are not separated from his thoughts and his lifestyle, and are the result of his world point of view.
The Torah seeks to influence our view of the world rather than the mere action of having the final goal to make this world a better place, and thus influencing the way of our lives, our actions, and even our thoughts and desires.
Rabbi Refael Cohen