We read this week about Moshe’s retelling of revelation, the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, that occurred forty years prior.
Over the last three millennia, the Ten Commandments have been embraced by civilized society as the bedrock of a just and functioning society.
Although the entire Decalogue is clear and concise, our sages have struggled to fully understand the final and perhaps most difficult of them all: “Do not covet your neighbors house…or anything that is his.”
How is it possible to be commanded not to have the emotion of desiring something? Not to take something which belongs to another is understandable, because a person is given the free will to control his actions. Desires, however, are the result of spontaneous emotions, which would seem to be beyond a persons control. How, then, can one be instructed not to desire?
There are various answers to how our sages understood this Misvah.
When the Rabbi from Rizhin (1796-1850) was asked by his student to clarify this commandment, he responded by asking the student what spiritual goals he hoped to attain. The student replied, “I am trying to eliminate my selfish character traits,” to which the Rabbi responded, “You will never succeed by focusing on your flaws directly, the only way to achieve your goal is by observing the encompassing instructions of the Torah, “Don’t take revenge, Don’t bear a grudge, Don’t hate your fellow in your heart, Take care of the widow and the orphan, Love your neighbor as yourself,’ and the undesirable character traits will leave on their own. There is no other way to self improvement.”
The Rabbi was expressing the insight of the Talmud, which quotes G-d as saying, “I have created the self centered ego in man, and I have created the Torah as it’s antidote, only through the direction of the Torah can the ego be tamed. The Rabbi, then explained, that instead of a commandment ‘Do not desire’, the Torah is instructing us, ’Do not bring yourself to a state of desire.’ By following the entire structure of the Misvot, the desired change in ones character will take place. Instead of focusing on one’s flaws and imperfections, one should put effort into a positive code of conduct. As our sages say, a little bit of light pushes away a lot of darkness.
Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi Shaul