Talmidav Shel Aharon
5-5769: Mitzvah N-41
December 2, 2008
Negative Mitzvah 41 – This is a negative commandment: Do not crave in one’s heart something that belongs to one’s fellow-man.
Hafetz Hayim: for Scripture says, “Neither shall you crave etc.” (Deut. 5:18) This prohibition is separate from the injunction “You shall not covet” (see last lesson: 4-5769). For a person transgresses the prohibition against craving once he thinks in his heart how he can acquire that object, and his heart is persuaded in the matter to follow his plan. Then he violates the injunction, “Neither shall you crave…” since craving is but in the heart alone. If he then acquires that object, having importuned its owner and sent many friends to him, until he gets it, he violates also the injunction, “You shall not covet”. It is in force everywhere and at all times for both men and women.
This commandment is found as an extra word in Deuteronomy where Moses recalls the law against coveting in the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are found twice in the Torah, once in Exodus and repeated in Deuteronomy. The problem is that the two texts are not identical. The most famous difference between them is in the fourth commandment; Exodus says that we should “Guard” (Shamor) the seventh day, and Deuteronomy says that we should “Remember” (Zachor). If we were to look closely at the prayer on Friday night, “Lecha Dodi” we would see it mentions a Midrash that explains that God pronounced on Sinai only one commandment but spoke “Shamor” and “Zachor” at the same moment. Humans could not speak like that but God can and did. In the final commandment there is also a slight difference in the law concerning coveting. In Exodus the commandment states that we cannot covet our neighbor’s house, wife, male or female slave, or anything that is your neighbors. In Deuteronomy, the commandment reads, “do not covet your neighbor’s wife, crave his house, field, male or female slave, ox, ass or anything that is your neighbor’s.” It is the additional word “crave” that makes this prohibition separate from the injunction of coveting.
But the two laws are not really that separate. Craving takes place in your heart, and coveting takes place out in the real world. Craving leads to coveting. When it does, one is guilty of two sins.
We have to understand that neither of these laws can be easily explained in American law. In American law, you have to do something wrong to violate a prohibition. Thinking about something is not illegal until you actually do an illegal act. Americans sort of live by the creed that if you want something badly enough, you can work for it and get it through your own efforts. American advertising tells us that we can have anything we want. It is very unusual to want what another person has and not be able to get something similar or exactly the same without having to resort to nagging that person to give it up. (The possible exception here could be your neighbor’s wife. You can chase after any single woman [or man] who may have a similar physical appearance or be in a similar financial situation, but you cannot covet the person married to your neighbor.)
The war on Terror has led our country to go after those who are planning a terrorist attack before they can actually execute the plan. While it is difficult to prosecute someone for talking or acting like a terrorist, to defend our country, we have to stop the terror before it can begin. Similarly, the Secret Service goes after any person who makes any kind of a threat against the President or any other leader of this country. One does not have to carry out that threat to get the attention of the Secret Service. These two examples are the exceptions to the rule. In most cases, just wanting something in your heart does not trigger any attention by the civil authorities because the police can’t arrest people for what they think. I am not sure that Jewish Law could punish a person who only commits the sin of “craving” but if that person carried out the idea and performed an act of coveting, then Jewish Law would punish for both sins, since one sin implies the other.
We should all remember to pay less attention to what our neighbor has that we lack and be thankful for what we already have. That is an attitude that will keep us far from sin.