Weekly Parsha Review Laced with Humor and Sarcasm from The Oisvorfer Ruv

Yisroy 2021 – Coveting and Desires, The Perks of Judaism & Greener Grass

This week’s parsha review is dedicated to the memory of Reb Yaakov ben Reb Chaim Yitzchok Halevi Grossman, the Oisvorfer’s father, OBM, who passed away  Chof Hey Shevat 5764 (February 25, 2004) and whose yurtzeit is being observed this coming Motzei Shabbis and Sunday.  While alive, he completed eleven cycles of the entire heylige Gemora. May his memory be a blessing.

Coveting and Desires, The Perks of Judaism & Greener Grass

It’s the big one! It’s time for Matan Toirah (Revelation) and it all takes places in this week’s parsha named after a goy.  Vus epes punkt (why specifically) this most important parsha was named for a goy, ver veyst? So happens that parshas -a few- are named after goyim; mistama they bought the dedications. Ober let’s recall that the Moshiach himself is rooted back to a questionable relationship, that Rus was descendant from Moiov who himself was born from an act of fornication between father and daughter, and that Dovid Hamelech certainly coveted (and much more) his neighbor’s wife. In that case, the suspecting husband Uria paid with his life and avada our sages did an excellent job talking the entire affair away. If only it was so easy for the rest of us. Shoin here we are. The bottom line: the RBSO works in mysterious ways, and for that reason alone we share this piece of good news: despite our -at least at times- questionable behavior, we’re not disqualified from greatness. Seemingly the RBSO enjoys working with flawed people. Are our flaws then efsher prerequisites for greatness? If yes, the heylige Ois is on his way. Something to ponder over. Who knows what still awaits us or our progeny?

This week, the Yiddin will be introduced to the Ten Commandments. As discussed last week -yes, you should have read it in its entirety- these were not the first commandments they received. However, and for reasons we call ver veyst, they didn’t count. Stated another way, they do count today but did not make the top ten list back then. Or, did they? According to some, the commandment of shabbis observance was seemingly transmitted prior at a place called Marah, a second time this week, and maybe a third with the second set of ten commandments. The ten the RBSO came down to deliver are delineated this week. You know them all; mistama you violated at least a few (at least once), and in certain cases, one in particular we shall discuss mamish below, many times. Shoin, thankfully the RBSO also introduced us to Yom Kippur when we say I’m sorry, beat our chests a few hundred times while thinking about and reliving in our imaginations the very sins we seek atonement for, fast, daven and then start all over again. Is it a zero-sum game?

Over the years, I used to kler azoy: which of the commandments are easy to observe and which are more challenging, if not impossible? Shoin, after many decades the heylige Ois is here with results: keeping and observing the heylige shabbis is easy as is avoiding idol worship and a few others. We’ve all been challenged with the fifth, showing proper respect to our parents but for the most part, we try or tried. Not perfectly but nisht giferlich. And having said all that, this week we shall cover commandment number 10, the most challenging and difficult to observe commandment of not coveting. Not coveting? What’s that and who doesn’t covet? Let’s get real: everyone covets. It’s hard not to covet and it’s taka hard when we do, if you chap. Ober, what is it? How does one covet? Can one covet without violating the commandment? Yikes! Let’s get started by reading the commandment as it appears in our parsha. As well, we shall read how it’s written in version number two of the Aseres Hadibrois. Following that, we will explore a well-known (by most), and much written about shtikel variance in the two iterations of the Ten Commandments when specific to coveting. Version two? Avada you recall from last week, from your days in yeshiva and from stam azoy being Jewish, that Moishe came down with a second set. You’ll find those delineated in Parshas Vo’es’cha’nan – which incidentally will mark the completion of eleven years of heylige Ois Toirah and the first shabbis of year twelve; OMG! Let’s begin with a comparison of this commandment in both sets and then go veyter. When it comes to coveting there is lots to discuss, here we go. Ober what is coveting? According to most, coveting can be translated azoy:  the Hebrew word for “covet” is chamad (חמד) which is commonly translated into English as “covet”, “lust”, and “strong desire.” We know these feelings only too well. Let’s read the tenth commandments as found in this week’s parsha (Shmois 20:14):

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.”   ידלֹ֥א תַחְמֹ֖ד בֵּ֣ית רֵעֶ֑ך ס לֹֽא־תַחְמֹ֞ד אֵ֣שֶׁת רֵעֶ֗ךָ וְעַבְדּ֤וֹ וַֽאֲמָתוֹ֙ וְשׁוֹר֣וֹ וַֽחֲמֹר֔וֹ וְכֹ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר לְרֵעֶֽךָ:
And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor shall you desire your neighbor’s house, his field, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.   יְלֹ֥א תַחְמֹ֖ד אֵ֣שֶׁת רֵעֶ֑ךָ ס וְלֹ֨א תִתְאַוֶּ֜ה בֵּ֣ית רֵעֶ֗ךָ שָׂדֵ֜הוּ וְעַבְדּ֤וֹ וַֽאֲמָתוֹ֙ שׁוֹר֣וֹ וַֽחֲמֹר֔וֹ וְכֹ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר לְרֵעֶֽךָ:

In English: And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor shall you desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s. In more simple English: don’t desire his beautiful home, stunning wife, exceedingly successful business, fancy expensive cars, or anything else that is his. A very tall order for sure. The second version, found in Sefer Devorim (5:18) is slightly different.

And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor shall you desire your neighbor’s house, his field, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.   יְלֹ֥א תַחְמֹ֖ד אֵ֣שֶׁת רֵעֶ֑ךָ ס וְלֹ֨א תִתְאַוֶּ֜ה בֵּ֣ית רֵעֶ֗ךָ שָׂדֵ֜הוּ וְעַבְדּ֤וֹ וַֽאֲמָתוֹ֙ שׁוֹר֣וֹ וַֽחֲמֹר֔וֹ וְכֹ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר לְרֵעֶֽךָ:

In English: And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor shall you desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s. In more simple English: don’t desire his beautiful home, stunning wife, exceedingly successful business, fancy expensive cars, or anything else that is his. A very tall order for sure. The bottom line: coveting your neighbor’s wife or “his ass” are not good!

What do we have? Two sets of Ten commandments, the second replacing the first that Moishe broke in disgust. Seemingly the Yiddin had already violated the first set. Note the differences in phrasing. Shmois talks about “coveting” your neighbor’s house, then his wife, then other things. They are all verboten. In Devorim, “coveting” your neighbor’s wife comes first, then “desiring” his house and other things follow. Is there a difference? As well, a different verb is used in set number two, and when that happens and it did, our sages of yore jumped all over it and wanted to know why? Why taka? Why was the language changed? We don’t know for sure because the RBSO didn’t tell us. Efsher He wanted us to guess and further discuss. We do know this: He moved wife-coveting to first place seemingly for a reason and that difference plus the change in the verb had our sages arguing over the meaning. What is the verb? In Shmois we are instructed not to “covet” and in Devorim we are instructed not to “desire.” Shoin. And the difference?

Says the heylige Gemora (Buba Metzia 5b), azoy: “coveting” is a longing that leads to wrongdoing, whereas “desiring” is a matter of the heart only. In other words: man, though bad, can overcome desires but seemingly cannot control himself when coveting. The good news: the heylige Zoihar (Devarim, 3, p 261a; and the Rambam (Sefer ha-Mitzvis), agree. The bottom line: both are forbidden and shoin!

Ober what’s pshat? What’s pshat coveting and how is it even shayich (even for a tiny minute) not to? And what’s pshat that “desiring” is also forbidden? Let’s get real: in life, we humanoids are programmed to both desire and covet. Why so? Because that’s davka how the RBSO wired and programmed us. And that’s emes raboyseyee: way before programmable smart switches and other devices came about, the RBSO hardwired us to do both. In fact, we don’t know how not to desire. Let’s not forget that He also gave us the yetzer horo (evil inclination) whose main purpose is to help us covet and desire. How then do we avoid violating that last commandment given by the RBSO? “You shall not covet”. What does it mean: “You shall not desire”? What exactly is being commanded here? How can you prevent yourself from having certain feelings, and thoughts, if you chap? The fact is azoy: many -beginning in high school- spend years, decades, and the rest of their lives coveting and thinking how to chap what their hearts desire. Is it possible to control our thoughts and desires? So many givaldige questions; got answers? Not? Let’s go veyter.

Seemingly, so a few sages suggest, this commandment was directed against the sin of envy. Man was given the gift of human intelligence in order to be able to sift out the good from the bad, even in his/her own thoughts.  Says the heylige Gemora (Buba Basra) that a person can even harm his neighbor with his eyes. It asserts that damage caused by looking is also regarded as damage that is prohibited.  Even if the covetous desire is concealed in the heart, the covetous desire in itself is regarded by the Toirah as damaging to the neighbor.

Said Philo of Alexandria azoy: covetous desires are a kind of insurrection and plotting against others, because the passions of the soul are formidable. “Is the love of money, or of women, or of glory, or of any one of the other efficient causes of pleasure, the origin of slight and ordinary evils? Is it not owing to this passion that relationships are broken asunder, and change the good will which originates in nature into an irreconcilable enmity? And are not great countries and populous kingdoms made desolate by domestic seditions, through such causes? And are not earth and sea continually filled with novel and terrible calamities by naval battles and military expeditions for the same reason?” Now there was a man who chapped the strength of man’s desires; they are all consuming. He regards desires as the worst kind of passion, but also one over which the individual exercises voluntary control. Ha! Shoin, that’s where the Ois and Philo part ways.  Because Philo believed that man has some control, in his discussions on the topic, he exhorts the individual to make use of this commandment to cut off desire, the fountain of all iniquity. Left unchecked, covetous desire is the source of personal, interpersonal, and international strife. Yikes! Let’s go veyter.

Efsher you recall the rebbe telling you that us Yiddin, we are lucky. Why so? Because the RBSO does not punish us for bad thoughts, only for bad actions. Mamish a relief; can you imagine farkert? Can you imagine the hell we’d be in -for life mamish (after death)- were we to be judged and punished for our vilde (wild) and sensual thoughts? For our sexual desires? For our fantasies? And the list goes on!  Ober, geloibt der Abishter (thank the RBSO), Judaism is a religion of action, not of feelings or beliefs. Givaldig and thankfully so as the entire advertising industry, exists only to get us to covet things we don’t have. And again, let’s get real: in all walks of life, to include the heylige internet, TikTok, Instagram, YouTube and many others portals, are about coveting inducing materials; how can we not violate this commandment daily? Is it outright sinful? Is there a workaround?  How are we to ever observe this commandment?

Again, we state azoy: let’s get real: it’s one thing not to chap or steal stuff, but a prohibition against desires? That’s got to be the hardest of all. Was the RBSO being somewhat unreasonable with this commandment? Was He being realistic? After all, He did -as mentioned above- create us with yetzer horos and big eyes; now He wants what from us? Not to desire beautiful things and even people? Not to desire or covet after the shapely scantily clad sexy beautiful woman live, or on TV? Not to desire the car your neighbor drives? His beautiful house? Not to covet at all? He knows we’re not angels. In fact, He knows we’re much less and therefore gave us ways to atone each and every year? In fact, we can atone daily. Grada the Ois has a chaver who covets daily and then starts his day at the mikveh to atone for the previous day’s sins. How can He command us not covet? Not to desire? What taka is pshat in the words of this commandment? Do they mean anything else but what is written? Is there a deeper understanding? Can we survive in this world without violating this commandment on a daily basis? Do you not covet kimat every moment of every day? How would therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists and all the anonymous group meetings make a living were people programmed not to covet?  What would patients talk about?

Moreover, says the medrish (Bereishis Rabbah 9:7, azoy: without the evil inclination, that ever-powerful yetzer horo, no man would build a house, take a wife, beget a family, and engage in work. Said Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon) in Ecclesiastes (4:4): “And I saw that all labor and all achievement in work was the result of man’s envy and rivalry with his neighbor.”  And other luminaries? Says the Rambam (Mishneh Toirah, Hilchos Gezeilah v’Aveidah), azoy: when you desire a neighbor’s object and pressure him heavily until he gives it to you, even if your pressure was friendly and even if you pay handsomely for it, you have violated the prohibition. In other words: even pressure to sell is reprehensible. You must not -according to the RambaM- tell your neighbor, who did not put his house on the market, “I want your house so badly I will pay you twice its market value for it.” Wait, there’s more:  You must not tell a poverty-stricken husband, “Divorce your wife so I can marry her. I’ll give you a million dollars and she will live like a queen.” Avada we can chap that chapping the poor wife without the million, is zicher also verboten. And what about threatening them with reprisals if they don’t do as you say? Obviously, that’s even more forbidden.

On the other hand, and mamish so interestingly, the heylige Gemora (Buba Basra 47b) says azoy: If a man agrees to sell something through fear of physical violence, the sale is nonetheless valid. This ruling is motivated by practicality. Without it, a lot of legal sales would be questioned. The Rambam also writes: Desire leads to coveting, and coveting leads to stealing. For if the owner (of the coveted object) does not wish to sell, even though he is offered a good price and is entreated to accept, the person (who covets the object) will come to steal it, as it is written (Book of Micah 2:2): “They covet fields and (then) steal them.” The Rambam adds azoy: And if the owner approaches him with a view to reclaiming his money or preventing the theft, then he will come to murder. The bottom line: the Rambam views “Do not covet” as a protective fence that avoids a cascade of infractions. For example, coveting your neighbor’s wife might lead to murder of her husband, as mentioned above in the case of Dovid Hamelech and Bathsheva. If the adultery is not known and leads to a child, the father is misidentified, and the child does not get to inherit from his real father, which is a form of theft. The child does not get to honor his real father, which breaks another commandment. If the matter is known, the child is tagged as a bastard, and may marry only another bastard. If he can’t find one, he cannot marry, which means fewer Jews to observe the heylige shabbis and commandments.

Says the heylige Mishneh (Avos 4:21), azoy: Envy, lust and seeking honor remove a person from this world.  On the other hand, the heylige Gemora tells us that, while coveting is forbidden, there is- giloibt der Abisherter (thank the RBSO)- no punishment for it. In plain English: There is no punishment for mere evil intention, for it is said (Tihilim 66:18) azoy: “If I saw iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not hear.” Says the heylige Gemora (Kidushin 40a), azoy: if one has an intention to do an evil act but does not succeed, the RBSO does not count it as if he did it. On the other hand, if he intends to do a mitzvah and is unsuccessful, the RBSO still counts it as if he did it. Why? Because it’s one of the perks of being Jewish!  The bottom lines: If evil intentions -seemingly to include coveting and desire- do not lead to action, the RBSO does not punish it. The bottom line: relax and exhale.

Ober, let’s further examine this one question: can mankind mamish overcome the all-powerful and ever-present yetzer horo? Can one overcome lustful thoughts and just walk away? Says the Ibn Ezra, that it’s all a matter of training children from the time they can understand, and efsher that’s what the commandment is there to teach us. We are to train our kids from the get-go that certain actions and or things, and people we crave, covet and desire, are off limits. Limoshil (by way of example), a person does not desire to lie with his mother, although she may be hot and beautiful, because he has been trained since his youth to know that she is forbidden to him.  Those who are strictly kosher do not desire non-kosher meat. It’s a psychological result of our training. The bottom line: in his view. proper education can regulate improper coveting. As the good book says (Proverbs, 22:6), “Train a child in the way that he should go, and even when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

On the other hand, if your neighbor has a beautiful house, there is nothing wrong with you desiring to own a similar house and working hard to earn it. Otherwise, how would you ever acquire anything if you did not desire it first?  Desire is good! It motivates! The prohibition is against davka (specifically) wanting your neighbor’s house, the one you were invited to see.  Let’s recall that our tradition teaches us that all achievements can be traced to envy, coveting or jealousy.

On the other hand, says the Sefer Ha-chinuch (mitzvah 416), azoy: Do not wonder and ask: But how can it be in one’s power to restrain his heart from longing for riches that he may see in his fellow man’s possession, when he himself is lacking them all? How can a prohibition be given in the Torah about something which man cannot possibly obey?

And listen to this shtikel on sexual matters: Says the Ezer Mikoidesh (found on the daf of Shulchan Aruch E.H. 23:3), azoy: intellectually thinking sexual thoughts is not forbidden, only lusting and fantasizing is forbidden. He argues, “otherwise it would be impossible to learn any Gemora that discusses sexual matters.” It goes without saying that we cannot fully control every passing thought that runs through our heads. Moreover, says the heylige Gemora (Buba Basra 164b), so mamish gishmak and real, azoy: forbidden sexual thoughts are one of the three sins that a person cannot fully save himself from. Case closed!

On the other hand, says the heylige Gemora (Soitah 9a): whoever sets his eyes on what is not his, loses also what is his. The bottom line: Coveting what you can’t have is bad for you, but you will not be punished for it, unless it leads to prohibited action, which it frequently does. Desiring something and working diligently to earn it is OK. You can prevent yourself from coveting by not looking into your neighbor’s affairs. Says the Ois: another good way is not to get entangled into an affair. You can prevent children from coveting if you train them early to understand that some things are off-limits. Does that work? Ver veyst?

And we get ready to close with this: After reading the commandment in its entirety, efsher you’re wondering azoy: why does the text of this commandment first list a variety of specifics: house, wife, field, servant, etc, and then still find it necessary to add the generalization, “and all that belongs to your friend”?

One pshat the heylige Ois heard some twenty years ago and attributed to the Satmar Rebbe (though in the world where success has many fathers, I have also heard this pshat attributed to others), was mamish gishmak and goes azoy: what the heylige Toirah is saying is that if, perchance, you should cast your envious eye over your neighbor’s wall, you covet and desire her mamish and you cannot control your desires, don’t look at the specifics alone. Remember also to look at the overall picture. If you’re going to covet your neighbor’s wife because she’s mamish sexy, beautiful, funny, smart, and everything you don’t currently have at home, and you must have it (her), recall that you must then take the entire package. You must then be willing to accept “…all that belongs to your friend,” the entire package which typically comes with its own set of unique challenges you may not be willing to, or able to manage.

The bottom line: The grass is not necessarily greener on the other side, it’s typically greener where we water it most and take good care of it. (On the other hand, there are times when the grass goes dead and needs replacement.) Everybody has his or her own pekkel. We each carry our own parcel of problems, our own bundle of tzorris (trouble) through life. Life is challenging and no one gets away unscathed. Shoin, the next time you find yourself coveting your fellow’s whatever, stop for a minute to consider whether you really want “all that is your fellow’s”.

A gittin Shabbis-

The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv

Yitz Grossman

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