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   by Jacob Solomon

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Do not covet! (20:14)

Feeling jealous and wanting something already belonging to another person is forbidden by the 10th Commandment. That something can be a house, a spouse, a piece of land, or any other desired item that is the other's possession.

The commentators consider the reality that "Do not covet!" seems to run against human nature. It orders us how we should feel. But feelings are part of who we are rather than what we do. How can the Torah forbid us to feel jealous of a person's possessions and success?

Ibn Ezra explains that it is all about one's frame of mind. He gives the example of a poor peasant who may well lust after the attractive girl next door, but not after the daughter of royalty. He knows that she is not for him, and that she is utterly unattainable. In the same way Reuben, a former classmate, enjoys a luxury apartment with the latest "mod-cons" when Shimon doesn't even know where next month's rent's coming from. "Do not covet" requires Shimon to accept that God, the King of Kings, decided that Reuben should have it. Reuben's home should be as off-limits to Shimon as the queen to the peasant. It is a difficult test of Shimon's traits, but is expected of him under "Do not covet".

The Sforno explains "Do not covet" with the same frame of mind: "You should consider what is not yours as totally unattainable. For a person will not" the Sforno explains "desire something that is quite beyond his reach". That G-d has decreed he or she is not to have it, is what puts it out of reach.

In support, the Sforno quotes the way that the nations of the future will relate to the three-times-a-year festive visit to the Temple:

"I will banish nations before you and widen your boundaries. No person will covet your land when you go up to appear before G-d, three times a year" (34:24).

Sforno reads this as G-d's assuring the Israelites that non-Jews of the future will consider the Land of Israel to be totally beyond their reach, as land they will never own. That will be their mind frame.

This idea may well be broadened when considering the size of Israel relative to the rest of the world. It is so small that it barely shows up on a standard-sized globe. Nations wishing to expand their territory can do so without taking from Israel. And they can generate more of their own wealth irrespective of how well Israel does.

And the same applies to Reuben and Shimon. The world is big enough for G-d to enable Shimon to have a wonderful house with the very latest "mod cons" without coveting a thing of Reuben's. It is therefore on us to see the world as big enough for all our needs and dreams to be fulfilled without encroaching on other people - with suitable hishtadlut (human effort) and bitachon (trust in G-d).

For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at and on the material on the Haftara at .

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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