You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or whatever belongs to your neighbor.” (Shemos 20:14)
These are the contents of the entire second side of the Tablets. They represent all the Mitzvos between man and man. The first side contains Mitzvos between man and G-d! Both sides are intimately connected. Every Mitzvah between man and man is also a Mitzvah between man and G-d. What is the connection between the first and the last of “The Ten Commandments”? How does “I Am HASHEM…” relate to “You shall not covet”?.
Reb Wolbe said that the last is the final exam on the first. If one firmly understands that HASHEM is the author of all existence and it is He Who delivers “the goods”, then there is no reason to be busy studying what others have. I do not look into anyone else’s medicine cabinet jealously. If I wore your glasses and you wore mine we would both be visually impaired. I get what’s meant for my good and you get what’s meant for your good. We are not in competition with anyone else except our own potential.
This may help us to understand the other of the Commandments between man and man. Let us take one for example. When the Satmar Rebbe, Reb Yoel Teitelbaum was yet a small boy of three he was very precocious. He entered Shul one day and found a huge commotion. He was curious and he inquired as to what’s going on. They tried to dismiss him but he insisted to know what had happened. So they told him, “Someone stole the Pushka!” He declared, “That’s impossible!”
They all looked at him with wonder. How did this little three year old boy know it’s impossible? He said, “It says in the Torah, ‘Don’t steal!’”
Obviously to his innocent ears it meant that it is impossible to imagine how someone could steal. There is a steel wall between one person’s possessions and another’s. To the less innocent mindset those same words imply resisting the temptation to steal. To the thief it means to stop stealing and to return what you already stole.
There may however be a deeper meaning to the Rebbe’s innocent perspective. The Talmud in Tractate Taanis states, “No person can encroach upon what has been prepared for his friend within even a hair’s breadth.” In a certain sense, in the ultimate scheme of things no one can steal. It’s impossible! Yet we do find that there are thousands of details of laws that govern private possessions and ownership. Why would we need any of them?
I do believe that the answer is that we do not give philosophical answers to practical questions. True everyone gets exactly what they deserve but that cuts both ways. Nobody who knowingly tries to take what has been granted to anther will get away with it either. Neither can he enrich himself or nor will diminish the other. Eventually everything is evened out and the thief is still judged as a thief.
He cannot offer a philosophical excuse for his selfish behavior. The victim can gain comfort but the aggressor does not gain cover. While it may be true that it is impossible to steal, it is not impossible to be a thief!
It was Cecil B. Demil who made the movie, “The Ten Commandments” who famously stated, “You cannot break the law. You can only break yourself against the law!”