With Rabbi Yisroel Newman.
THE TENTH and final of the Ten Commandments recorded in this week’s portion reads: “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, and anything that belongs to your neighbour”.
The structure of the verse seems strange. In the beginning, the Bible specifies six things we should not covet, but concludes with: “And anything that belongs to your neighbour”.
Why not just state at the onset: “You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbour”?
And if the Torah wishes to specify details, why does it specify only a few and then revert to a generalisation? In Hebrew, the word employed for “anything” and “everything” is identical: kol.
Hence, the end of the verse can also be translated as: “…and everything that belongs to your neighbour”. The Torah is instructing us not to covet, and also helping us achieve this difficult state of consciousness. How could you demand from a person not to be overtaken by jealousy? When I walk into your home and observe your lifestyle, how could I not become envious?
The answer is: “Do not covet everything that belongs to your neighbour”.
The Torah intimates that it is indeed easy to envy the home and spouse of your neighbour, his servants, his ox and donkey; yet the question you have to ask yourself is, do you covet “everything that belongs to your neighbour”?
Are you prepared to assume his life completely? You cannot see life as myriads of disjointed events and experiences. You can’t pluck out one aspect of somebody’s life and state: “I wish I could have had his marriage, his home, his career, his money…”
Life is a holistic and integrated experience. Each life, with its blessings and challenges, with its obstacles and opportunities, constitutes a single story, a story that begins with birth and ends with death. Every experience in our life represents one chapter of our individual story and we do not have the luxury to pluck out a chapter from someone’s story, without embracing their entire story.
When you isolate one or a few aspects of someone else’s life, it is natural to become envious. But when you become aware of “everything that belongs to your neighbour,” your perception is altered. Do you really want to acquire everything that is going on in his or her life?
So the next time you feel yourself coveting the life of another, ask yourself if you would really want to become them.