The Ten Principles for America
The Tenth Commandment
“You shall not covet your fellow’s house. You shall not covet your fellow’s wife, man servant, his maid servant, his ox, his donkey, nor anything that belongs to your fellow”.
The Sages note that this last commandment is one that only a Divine Law giver could have decreed. A mortal leader or law giver can legislate against many acts such as theft and murder, but only God can actually demand that people sanctify their thoughts and attitudes to the extent in which they purge themselves of such natural tendencies, such as jealousy and covetousness.
Covetousness is quite different then jealousy. Covetousness relates to envy. Envy is far worse of a trait then jealousy. Jealousy can lead an individual to wrongful behaviors and actions that do not befit a member of society. Envy on the other hand is a place where people lose their ability to function within society altogether. As an example, one who felt envy would behave in the following manner: If I don’t have what my fellow man has, I will do everything in my power to deprive him of this as well. Clearly this is irrational behavior that could bring an entire society to its demise. The principle of do not covet, is first and foremost promoting that men ought to have respect and they must honor their fellow man and his possessions. The possession of a man belongs to him and therefore is not the business of any other.
How could the Torah forbid something as normal as jealousy and desiring another’s possessions? Is this not by itself going against the grain of human nature? The Sages explain this with a psychological insight. It is quite expected that an ignorant, poverty struck peasant might covet his neighbors daughter, but it would never dawn on him to lust after the Queen. The Queen is so inaccessible to him that such a thought would never enter his mind. The point in the Sages example is that sensible and logical people normally long to acquire things that are within their frame of reference, but never things that are beyond the scope of their imagination. Similarly, someone who had complete faith in God would recognize that property that God wished his neighbor to have, is as inaccessible to him as is the Queen to a poor peasant. If so, it would never dawn on a person to covet his neighbor’s belongings. Portrayed in this life, one who covets that in which is not his, and belongs to another demonstrates the lack of faith in God. Therefore it is proper that the Torah commands that one develop such absolute faith in God.
In my previous essays on the commandments we drew parallels between the commandments on the first tablet and those that are on the second; therefore if we look at the fifth commandment and compare it to the tenth commandment we can clearly see the connection. A covetous person will have children that dishonor him, because selfishness can lead people to overstep all bounds of decent conduct, putting selfish desires before all other considerations.
Honor you father and mother which is the fifth commandment commands children to honor their parents because parents were used by God to create them. Therefore children must honor their parents regardless of whether their parents have traits which are good and righteous or have less desirable traits. This honor should be kept in tact. In the ten commandments, when we talk about the honor of ones possessions we recognize as well that ones possessions is a gift from God, and therefore must be honored as such.
The tenth commandment enables mankind to create a better society. Members of such society must acknowledge and accept that others might be bigger, stronger, and richer then they are, and that this is alright. If perceived in this way, mankind will overcome its difficulties and will maintain high standards of moral and civil law.