What makes coveting, coveting?

30 Jan

Hard to believe, but we are already reading this week in synagogues worldwide of the revelation on Mt Sinai and the giving of the Torah, beginning with this Aseret haDibrot – commonly known as the Ten Commandmants. The final directive of the ten listed there seems somewhat anti-climatic. “Thou shall not covet…. ” To covet is to want something very, very badly.

A quick look at a passage in the Tamud (Baba Batra 21a) creates some confusion. There is reads “Jealousy among scholars increases wisdom.” Isn’t jealousy the same as coveting? Why is it a good thing here and a bad thing in the Aseret haDibrot?

A closer look might make this prohibition a bit more realistic.

In Chapter I of the Laws of Theft, Rambam makes it clear that “One does not transgress this prohibition until he takes the item that he coveted.”

What that means, in practice is that if someone owns a nice car or a nice house, and I want to save up money so that I can afford to have a nice car or nice house too, then I am not coveting.  I don’t want their car or their house–I just want one like it.  That is to say, I have no desire to take theirs away from them so I can have it.  

However, if I try to destroy someone financially so that they will lose their house thus giving me the opportunity to buy it, then I am most definitely coveting.  If I get someone fired so that I can get their job, then I am coveting.  If I destroy someone’s marriage so that I can have their spouse, then I am coveting.  

That’s the crux of the matter–if I’m not wanting to take something away from someone, then I am not coveting. 


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