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Hey Jealousy

02/13/2020 02:01:29 PM


This week’s Torah portion is famous for including the Ten Commandments. I believe that the last is the most difficult to follow: “you shall not covet.” The others may not be easy either, but they are all matters under our conscious control. We choose how to speak to our parents, and what to do or not do on the seventh day. We are ultimately in control of whether to act on our passions with violence or infidelity. In the unlikely event that we came before an idol, we determine whether our knees bend before it or not.

The tenth commandment is a different kind of challenge. Controlling our thoughts and desires is infinitely harder. If you don’t believe me, try spending a whole minute not thinking about an elephant. Can we believe or think something, or keep an idea out of our heads simply because we are commanded to? It seems like a losing proposition to demand that our thoughts turn a certain way.

The Hassidic commentator, Rabbi Yechiel Michel of Zlotchev, explains that in fact, the tenth commandment is actually a promise, and not a prohibition. How do we come to avoid coveting? By believing in God, by honoring our parents, and by respecting the lives and property of others, we condition ourselves to be respectful of others and not be jealous of what is theirs.

Another interpretation suggests that conversely, the tenth commandment is the root of all the others. While it is more difficult, it is all the more critical. If people are content with their own lot, they will not be tempted to slay or rob another or speak falsely to get what is not rightfully theirs. They will not resent their parents or seek out false gods in order to pray for that which they should not have.

What these two interpretations together tell us is that belief and practice build upon and reinforce each other, and taken together, build a much stronger moral base than either can do in isolation.

Fri, June 14 2024 8 Sivan 5784