Is all that glitters gold?
This week we read one of the central parashiot of our Torah; the giving of the ten commandments on Mt. Sinai. The ten commandments form a central part of Jewish life, they are the overarching principles by which we are to direct our actions in the world. Most of the rulings today seem obvious: don’t murder, don’t steal and hopefully we are not regularly transgressing those commandments, but one of the rules has always been a struggle for me. It seems to be controlling our thoughts and by the time we have the thought, it is too late, we have broken the commandment! It is number ten, “you shall not covet.” We are told; you shall not covert your neighbour’s house, wife, servants, ox, donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbour. It is a simple commandment, do not envy, do not be jealous of your neighbour, yet as soon as we have the thought, we have transgressed the commandment. As soon as we wish for something our neighbour has, we are in violation of the commandment, and it is very hard to un-think a thought. So other than knowing that Yom Kippur affords us the opportunity to seek forgiveness and proving that we are all fallible, what is this commandment trying to teach us?
I read a lovely commentary from Yossy Goldman which brings a slightly different take on the commandment and gives a new insight into its application. He draws on the commentaries which ask: if there is a list of objects which we should not covet, why also include “or all that is your neighbours?” They answer that we should be careful not to envy what our neighbour has without looking at ALL our neighbour has, meaning, that it is important to consider the totality of the person’s situation and maybe we will discover that our envy is misplaced. Our neighbour may have a beautiful shiny new boat, but he had to work from morning until night in a high pressure job to afford it. He has the boat but no time to enjoy it and his children are growing up without him. Our neighbour may have a glamorous lifestyle; parties, designer clothes, fame but she is lonely and craves the anonymity of regular life, real friends. We all have our burdens to bear and what may appear on the surface to be the perfect life is often far from it. We all have our struggles, our times of difficulty and challenge and this commandment is reminding us to look at it all. Before we envy our neighbours we should remember to look at the reality of their lives and to see what is really there rather than be blinded by the objects and items we desire.
I hope this Shabbat we can take a moment to be grateful for what we have and recognise that all that glitters is not necessarily gold.
Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio