We noted in an earlier article, that the prohibition of ‘Do Not Covet’
refers specifically to not trying to attain someone else’s item. However,
it is not prohibited to want the same item as his friend, and to try to
acquire it for himself. For example, if Brian owns a laptop computer, Dave
is allowed to try to buy the same make of laptop for himself. However, Dave
is not permitted to pressure Brian into selling his very own laptop to Dave.
Why is it considered so bad to desire someone else’s item in particular?
In order to answer this question it is necessary to understand the possible
motivations for acquiring physical property. A person may want possessions
simply because they offer a certain benefit to him. For example, a person
may want a large house because he has a big family and needs a certain
number of bedrooms to provide enough space for his family. However, a
person may desire possessions for a very different reason. He may judge his
sense of value on the basis of his acquisitions. He may see property
ownership as a measure of a person’s success in life. Accordingly, if he
sees that his friend owns a large house, he will feel that his friend is
‘beating’ him in an unspoken competition for possessions. This will
engender feelings of jealousy which he will want to assuage. The best way
of doing this is to acquire his friend’s very house. In this way, the large
house, which was the source of his feeling of inferiority, would now
engender in him feelings of superiority.
We can now understand why the desire for someone else’s specific item is
considered so negative. It is driven by an attitude that is totally foreign
to Torah values. This is an attitude that stresses the value of a person
according to his material possessions. The only measure of one’s success in
this area, is how much he owns in comparison to other people. Accordingly,
a person who lives with this value system will constantly desire to acquire
other people’s possessions so that he can ‘overtake’ them in the relentless
battle to see who can own the most ‘toys’.
The Torah approach is diametrically opposed to this attitude. The Torah
ascribes no importance to material ownership in appraising the value of a
person. All people are of infinite value because they are made in the
Image of G-d. Moreover, the only acquisitions that are important and
lasting are those of the spiritual kind. The wealthiest person in the world
will lose all his possessions when he dies, they are only temporary
acquaintances. The only ‘possessions’ that accompany a person to the Next
World, are the Mitzvos and good deeds that a person performed in this world.
When a person recognizes this truth, he will find no desire to want the
possessions of his fellow man.
1. To see more on this topic, email me on: Gefen123@smile.net.il, and I will
send you an essay on Parshas Vayeishev that discusses this issue in more depth.