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The most difficult commandment?

  • Parshas Ki Tetze - Rabbi Yossi Goldman
Shavuot is the day on which G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people. The reading of the great Revelation at Sinai includes, of course, the world-famous Ten Commandments.
by RABBI YOSSY GOLDMAN | May 17, 2018

Which would you say is the most difficult of the Big 10 to keep? Would it be the first, the mitzvah to believe in G-d? Faith doesn’t come as easy to our generation as it did in the days of our grandparents.

Children with aged parents suffering ill health and who require much attention might argue that the fifth commandment, “Honour Thy Father and Mother”, is the most difficult. Still others would say that number 4, keeping Shabbos, cramps their lifestyle more than any other.

While each has a valid point, I would cast my vote for the last commandment: number 10, “Thou Shalt Not Covet”.

You shall not covet your friend’s house or his wife, servant, ox, donkey or anything that belongs to your friend. In simple English: Don’t desire his beautiful home, stunning wife, super-efficient PA, nifty sports car or anything else that is his.

It’s one thing not to steal the stuff, but not even to desire it? That has to be the hardest of all. Really now, is G-d not being somewhat unreasonable with this one? Is He being realistic? Surely our Commander-in-Chief doesn’t think we are angels!

So, allow me to do what all good Jews do and try to answer a question… with another question. Why does the text of this commandment first list a variety of specifics (house, wife, servant etc.) and then still find it necessary to add the generalisation (and all that belongs to your friend)?

One beautiful explanation is that it is to teach us a very important lesson for life; a lesson which actually makes this difficult commandment much easier to live with. What the Torah is saying is that if, perchance, you should cast your envious eye over your neighbour’s fence, don’t only look at the specifics. Remember to also look at the overall picture.

Most people assume the grass to be greener on the other side. But we don’t always consider the full picture, the whole package. Okay, he’s got a great business and a very healthy balance sheet. But is he healthy? Is his family healthy? The attractive wife looks great at his side when they’re out together, but is she such a pleasure to live with at home? And if he should have health and wealth, does he have nachas from his children?

Is there actually anybody who has it all?

Every now and then I am reminded of this lesson. A fellow who seemed to be on top of the world suddenly has the carpet pulled out from under his feet and in an instant, is himself in need. Another guy who you never really thought that highly of turns out to be an amazing father, raising the most fantastic kids.

As the Yiddish proverb goes, everybody has his own little pekkel. We each carry a knapsack through life, a parcel of problems, our own little bundle of tzorris. When you are young, you think difficulties are for “other people”. When you get older, you realise no one is immune.

Nobody has it all.

There is a famous folk story of a group of villagers who formed a circle and each individual opened his knapsack, revealing the contents for all to see. They walked around the circle of open parcels and everyone had the opportunity to choose whichever one he liked. In the end, each one chose his own.

I believe it’s more than just a case of “better the devil you know”. When we actually see with our own eyes what the other fellow’s life is all about behind closed doors, what’s really inside his knapsack, we feel grateful for our own lot in life and happily choose our very own pekkel, with all its in-built problems.

The Almighty is giving us good advice. Be wise enough to realise that you have to look at the whole picture. When we do, this difficult commandment becomes more easily observable. Not only is it sinful to envy what other people have, it is foolish. Because life is a package deal.

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