In your mind’s eye, is the grass greener at times in your neighbor’s backyard? Do you get green with envy thinking about someone else’s car, spouse, partner, wealth, or happiness?
I recently observed a holiday called Shavuot, or the giving of the Ten Commandments to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai a mere 3,329 years ago, and was asked to give a talk on the last commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Covet.” This was an interesting feat since I’d not really given much thought to the concept and was eager to delve deeper.
What is coveting? How does it affect our lives and our relationships? Is this commandment last on the list because it is the hardest as we are faced with it on a daily basis?
In the book of Deuteronomy, the word “desire” is also used in connection with the word “covet.” For all of time it seems, and even more so today, there’s always something new to love, yearn for, and buy.
The first part of the commandment is very specific: “You shall not covet your friend’s wife, or his field, servant, ox, donkey, or anything else that belongs to your friend.” You know exactly what you shouldn’t covet, but why is it necessary to add the generalization “and all that belongs to your friend?”
A beautiful explanation is offered to teach a very crucial lesson and to make this commandment more palatable and easier to carry out. That is, to look at the bigger picture. I may want my friend’s car, but do I want his heart condition? I may want my neighbor’s spouse or partner, but do I want the struggle he or she has maintaining a peaceful home?
This reminds me of a story of a farmer who leaves his modest town. He comes to the city and sees the big, beautiful buildings and the king’s castle. He knows the king has a young, beautiful daughter yet he doesn’t give a second thought to ever meeting or being with royalty. His boundaries are clearly defined. But, the lines of our lives are more subtle and may be more difficult to define or to follow.
There’s also an old Yiddish story that says if we put all of our challenges, heartaches, and struggles into the center with everyone else’s, we’d probably, in the end, take back our own.
A tension of opposites coincides with this commandment. Where there is pain, there is wisdom; fear leading to strength; loneliness to reaching out. If we desire something that doesn’t belong to us, or are jealous of someone’s affluence, good fortune, or lifestyle, a mindful door can open. Now, we can view life as an opportunity of expression instead of a life of emotional oppression. We can forge ahead, knowing our lives are uniquely ours and we hold the reins.
Who is a wealthy person? A person who is content with their lot, a distinction made by the honorable Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, OBM. This is true only for physical wealth, of course. With regard to spiritual health and wealth, one must never be content with their lot. Keep learning, moving forward, and soaring higher. Jealousy, then, will have no place in our daily lives.
Dr. Amy Austin is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFC # 41252) and doctor of clinical psychology in Rancho Mirage. Dr. Amy can be reached at (760) 774.0047.