This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Pinchas Winston, Yossi Bilus, Yissachar Frand, Noach Isaac Oelbaum and Dr. Abba Goldman
The tenth of the Asserret HaDibrot [“Ten Commandments”] is Lo Tachmod: “Do not covet your neighbor’s house; do not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his slave, his donkey, his ox, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” [Shmot 20:13]. A person is not allowed to be jealous of his friend’s possessions.
There are three categories of expression — thought, speech and deed. In Jewish tradition, controlling one’s actions is the simplest level of self-control and observance. Speech is a little harder. Thought, such an internal, personal level of expression, is the hardest of all.
How is it possible to control one’s desires? It’s even more mindboggling that one would be violating the Torah if he is jealous of his friend’s purchase of a brand new car. Does that translate to us receiving severe punishment for the feeling? After all it’s a Torah violation and those are strict!! How can the Torah legislate against a person’s desires? It is very natural for a person driving a jalopy to be jealous of a person who has a new car and does not have to worry about leaking oil and whether the car will start each time he turns the key in the ignition.
If this is readily understandable in terms of our neighbor’s car, it is certainly understandable in terms of more meaningful things in life. We see other’s children more obedient, successful and perhaps accepting Jewish values more readily. Our perception is that our neighbors are living in bliss, happily married, while we look at our marriage as difficult. We see our neighbor’s families, we see their position, etc. How does the Torah command a person not to be jealous?
Granted, we learned in Torah 101 (beginner’s class) that desiring what others have is wrong. Everyone is tailor-made for his lot in life. G-d gives each one of us what we need materialistically and whom – wife, children, etc. (or lack of) – to make us better people. However that feeling, of desiring what our neighbor’s have, although diminished because of our Torah knowledge, is still apparent. What is the antidote so that we don’t desire other’s possessions, spouses etc.?
To be eighteen again is a wonderful thought. You have that youthful strength and energy but are now considered an adult though, by and large, you’re still supported by your fairly young parents. As a matter of fact, I’ve asked many men “What was the best years of your life?” and most guys of middle age, pointed to when they were young adults, before marriage years. Not that marriage is bad but it adds a huge responsibility of making a living – one might even label it the curse of Adam-ZE’AT APEHA-sweat of your brow.
A group of young adults were enjoying a cold wintery Sunday afternoon at Central Park when one of the young men spotted an attractive girl on the other side of the frozen lake. Being that age, when feelings for girls are at full bloom and difficult to control, the young man expressed his desire to put on his skates, which he had in his dufflebag so he could skate across the lake to meet that girl. Very often at that age one takes risks to satisfy one’s new found desires and tend to leap into situations, negating the danger involved, and so that’s exactly what he did.
As the young man was zooming half way across the lake, anticipating his conquest, he noticed a hole in the ice which he couldn’t manage to avoid and fell into the icy water. He immediately scraped at the ice with all his might; his life hanging in the balance.
From this parable we see the antidote for desire. As the young man anticipates his unfortunate doom, does he still have the desire for the girl across the lake? Fear has instantly grabbed this boy’s emotions. With the element of fear the young man sees, however briefly, the situation a bit more different and perhaps a bit more clearer. Gone is the desire; regret has set in. As a matter of fact, the word for fear in Hebrew is the same as the word for seeing – yireh. One sees with clarity; his perceptions are magnified when in fear. Perhaps, for this reason it is written in the Torah:
Now, Israel, what does G-d, your G-d, ask of you? Only to fear G-d, your G-d … (Devarim 10:12) These words are a central part of Moshe, our leader’s farewell address to the Jewish people on the last day of his life
The Talmud reiterates this point:
All is in the hands of Heaven except fear of Heaven, as it says, “Now, Israel, what does G-d, your G-d, ask of you? Only to fear ….” (Devarim 10:12) … Rebi Chanina said in the name of Rebi Shimon bar Yochai: The Holy One, Blessed is He, only has fear of G-d in His storehouse, as it says, “Fear of G-d is His storehouse” (Yeshayahu 33:6). (Brochot 33b)
Why is fear so important? Is it possible to manufacture fear? Ba’al Peor, one of the leading idols that people worshiped in Biblical times because of its rebellious streak against natural society (one would defecate on the idol), actually originated as a fear religion. When one is in tremendous fear what very frequently happens is loss of control of one’s bowel. This is how they worshiped their idol; by emotionally manufacturing the fear element.
Does one create that feeling when his neighbor’s child gives birth to a baby boy and he’s jealous? That’s insane!!
In order to understand how fear works let us examine a key element how we became a nation.
There were two people who led the Jewish midwives in going against Pharaoh’s orders of murdering the Jewish babies. Yocheved and Miriam possessed many beautiful character traits including, faith in G-d, kindness, an unwavering belief in a better future and courage in the face of adversity. But none of these traits is mentioned in the Torah. Instead the text tells us: “…it was because the midwives feared G-d that He made them houses” (Shemos 1:21) and “…the midwives feared G-d and they did not do as the king of Egypt spoke to them, and they caused the boys to live” (Shemos 1:17).
The “houses” – G-d’s reward to the midwives for their perfect fear of Him -were the dynasties of Priests (Kehunah) and Levites (Leviah) who served in the Temple, as well as Kings (Malchut), including the House of King David, for Yocheved and Miriam, respectively. Why is “fear of G-d” seen as the source of the midwives’ behavior and why is it considered so fundamental to the Jewish greatness they embody?
Our sages tell us that when a person leaves this world, G-d asks him six questions including, “were you honest in business, did you study Torah, did you wait for the Messiah?” If a person is on the level that he can truly respond “yes” to all six questions, he is then asked, “were you G-d-fearing?” If he says “no,” he is told that all six previous answers are worthless without the fear of G-d. This seems somewhat bewildering. Why are six accomplishments insignificant in the face of this one specific failure?
It’s important to add another element in order to truly understand the definition of fear. Let us examine the story of Avimelech, the king of Gerar who kidnapped Sarah, the wife of Avraham, our forefather, for himself after being told by Avraham that she was only his sister.
However, before he could lay a hand on her, G-d spoke to him and revealed her true status, which shook Avimelech up when he realized how close he had come to committing adultery. However, in his defense the Torah writes:
Avimelech had not approached her, so he said, “G-d, will you slay a nation even though it is righteous?” (Bereishis 20:4)
Righteous? How could he have called himself or his nation righteous? Even had Sarah really been Avraham’s sister, did she consent to being taken by Avimelech? Had Avraham agreed to her abduction? As Avraham later told an upset Avimelech, he had lied about Sarah:
“Because I said, `There is but no fear of G-d in this place and they will kill me because of my wife’.” (Bereishis 20:11)
But, how did Avraham know this? What had he seen during his short stay in such a booming metropolis that indicated to him that all that was missing from such an advanced place was yireh Shamayaim-fear of G-d?
This is what Rashi says Avraham asked Avimelech:
When a stranger arrives in a city, do people ask him about what he would like to eat or to drink, or do they ask him about his wife? (Rashi, Bereishis 20:11).
In other words, Avraham reproved Avimelech by saying:
“If your people are going to ask me about anything at all, it should be about my needs. If they ask about my relationship to the woman accompanying me, then it is evident that they are not G-d-fearing people! G-d-fearing people act in a Godly manner, and if they do not, then you know they will do whatever they want to achieve their own goals, including kill me for my wife.”
Thus, according to Rashi, it is fear of G-d that allows one to put the requirements of others before their own personal needs. Hence the verse, regarding Yocheved and Miriam, says:
The midwives feared G-d, and disobeyed the king of Egypt, saving the children. (Shemos 1:17)
This is the underlying reason it explicitly stated that the mid-wives feared G-d!!
However what does the fear of G-d have to do with doing good to others? One of the key elements in fearing G-d is respect for his creation. This is perfectly illustrated by this parable:
When the king’s son is amongst the people everybody will give him the utmost respect because if not, it will be reported to the king. Then they will pay the consequences. He can be the biggest brat and still the people have to treat him in the most delicate way. Everyone is born with a mission in life and has the stamp of the king. The fear of the heavens will keep your relationships in check and your eyes to yourself. Your friends and neighbors are the King’s children. As long as we have fear of the heavens then there will be clarity, a vision untainted by desires.
Hence, what transpires is that if one has fear of G-d he will eventually have respect for his fellow man. There will be no jealousy out of fear. That covers both sides of the 10 commandments. One through five, the first side, is between man and G-d. Six to ten is between Man and his relationship with his fellow man.
For this reason G-d proclaimed “Now, Israel, what does G-d, your G-d, ask of you? Only to fear ….”