Rejoice In Your Portion
Rabbi Reuven Mann
This week’s Parsha, Yitro, contains the account of the greatest event in human history, the Revelation at Sinai. An entire nation was gathered at a mountain to witness miraculous phenomena and hear a voice from heaven proclaiming the “Aseret Hadibrot” (Ten Statements) which are the foundation of the Torah way of life.
These “Proclamations” can be divided into 2 categories each of which was inscribed on a separate tablet. The first contains the fundamentals of what are known as “bein Adam laMakom”— laws that govern man’s relationship with his Creator. The second grouping, known as “bein Adam lachaveiro” (between man and his friend), include the prohibitions of murder, theft, adultery and false testimony. It concludes with the unique Torah injunction called “Lo Tachmod”, not to covet the possessions of one’s neighbor.
Judaism believes that a truly religious person cannot confine himself to those activities such as prayer, fasting and studying holy writ which pertain exclusively to his relationship with Hashem. These matters are extremely important but sensitivity to the needs of others is equally consequential. Even when performing the most significant Mitzvot one cannot trample on the rights of others.
This can be seen from a teaching in Tractate Yoma which deals with all aspects of the Yom Kippur service in the Holy Temple. Nothing was more important than this worship as the atonement of all Israel depended on it. Only on this day could the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) enter the “Holy of Holies” and perform the “Ketores” (Incense) ritiual. When the entire room was filled with smoke he withdrew by the way he had come. He paused in the chamber known as the heichal and recited a short prayer and did not lengthen it “so as not to frighten the Israelites who anxiously awaited him.” The commentators explain that the people were nervous lest some mishap occur while he engaged in the difficult and dangerous Ketores service. So while this prayer was extremely important to the Kohen Hadol he was cognizant of the anxiety of his fellow Jews and deliberately kept his supplication brief.
This past Sunday funerals were held in Jerusalem for great Torah Sages which were attended by many thousands. This was, however, in dangerous violation of government restrictions that were enacted to halt the spread of the Covid pandemic. It is a great mitzva to display honor to exalted Torah scholars but to do so in a manner which harms oneself and others is sinful. The proper service of Hashem should refine a person’s soul and cause him to behave in a just and compassionate manner in all areas of life.
We can therefore understand why the injunctions against serious anti-social behavior are juxtaposed to the first 5 commandments which are rooted in our need to recognize and honor Hashem. However, the 10th Statement, not to covet, is, at first glance, difficult to comprehend. Jealousy of others, however unattractive, seems to be an ordinary and natural emotional response. This is not to say that it can’t be overcome with the requisite effort. But why is this seemingly benign and mundane tendency so terrible that it warrants inclusion in the Aseret Hadibrot?
The Rambam explains that one who covets an object that belongs to another and schemes to obtain it, even by legal means , and even agrees to pay a very high price for it, commits a serious sin. Desire for the possessions of others, he says, leads to coveting i.e. pressuring the reluctant owner to sell. This in turn can lead to theft, for if the owner will not sell then the prospective buyer could be tempted to take it by force. And the matter can even come to murder for if the owner fights to protect his property, blood might be spilled.
We can now see how central the issue of jealousy is to the tranquility of the social order. Man is a competitive being who constantly measures his worth in terms of how he compares with others. Life would be a lot simpler and happier if people would determine their needs purely by what is necessary with regard to their personal goals and aspirations.
Indeed, many people have all that they need to be happy but cannot enjoy it because of their perception that there are others who have “more”. Most of the political and social strife that afflicts society revolves around the discontents of the so called “have nots”. It is regarded as a serious injustice that there are some extremely rich people while at the same time there are many who, by comparison, are poor. It doesn’t matter if the well to do perhaps earned their wealth by dint of skill, creativity and hard work. The emotion of jealousy convinces a person that it’s “just not fair”. The Torah recognized this and incorporated the prohibition of coveting into the Aseret Hadibrot.
The Rabbis teach, “Who is wise? One who rejoices in his portion.” This formula for happiness requires that a person be able to determine what it is that he truly needs in life. It is not the money that he has but the activities he engages in that will determine his contentment and happiness. One should rejoice that he lives a life of meaning and that Hashem has given him what he needs to sustain it. That is the gateway to a genuine Ahavat Hashem and Ahavat Hachayim. May we merit to obtain it.
In this time of social isolation, we should seek ways to avoid boredom by staying occupied with meaningful activity. The world of virtual reality allows us to stay in touch with friends and attend all kinds of classes available online. But that can only take you so far.
Comes Shabbat and Yom Tov, and you need books, especially on the parsha. I personally recommend Eternally Yours on Genesis http://bit.ly/EY-Genesis and Exodus http://bit.ly/EY-Exodus, and my newest one on Numbers http://bit.ly/EY-Numbers2. They are easy to read, interesting, and thought-provoking conversation starters. I am especially interested in your feedback and hope you can write a brief review and post it on Amazon.