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Mitzvah 38: Don’t be greedy

Posted by rabbiart on April 30, 2008

This mitzvah is the last to be derived from the Torah passage usually referred to as the Ten Commandments. Shemot 20:13 reads “Do not covet (lo takhmod) your neighbor’s house, nor your neighbor’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.

יג לֹא תַחְמֹד, בֵּית רֵעֶךָ; {ס} לֹא-תַחְמֹד אֵשֶׁת רֵעֶךָ, וְעַבְדּוֹ וַאֲמָתוֹ וְשׁוֹרוֹ וַחֲמֹרוֹ, וְכֹל, אֲשֶׁר לְרֵעֶךָ

In the wording of this verse we see a strong emphasis on the relationship between one human being and another. Three times in a single verse we are reminded of the relationship with the phrase “your neighbor”. The implication is clear; the moment we begin to covet some person, animal or thing that belongs to someone else, the relationship between us begins to deteriorate. We can covet, or we can be in relationship, but we can’t do both.

Since coveting is simply an emotion, and jewish practice concerns itself primarily with actions, is coveting really that bad? We need only look to where it can lead – conspiracy to commit murder. Or consider the sad case of David and Bathsheba the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Even though Uriah is one of David’s close personal army, David sees, covets and impregnates Bathsheba, then conspires to have Uriah killed in battle.

Sefer HaHinuch also relates this commandment to idolatry, citing Devarim 7:25, because the same word – Lo takhmod – is used in that verse. The verse there instructs the Israelites to destroy pagan idols and not to covet the silver or gold with which they are made, and not to take and keep the precious metals. Why? it is an abomination to HaShem. Rabbinic reasoning principles would tell us that any coveting is similarly an abomination. Results oriented reasoning – that coveting leads to bad results and broken relationships – may tell us the same thing.

As we might expect, this commandment is in force in all times and places, for men and for women alike.

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