Happy is the one who is content with what he has, Yitro, Exodus 18:1-20:23

Happy is the one who is content with what he has, Yitro, Exodus 18:1-20:23

The Ten Commandments have been the pinnacle of Western civilization.
When we read them today some Commandments resonate with us and some require some additional thought.
Each of us has our own thoughts, questions and ideas when we study Torah and we grow wiser by studying our rabbis’ interpretations as well.
The 10th Commandment is especially challenging, since it refers to thoughts and feelings — not necessarily doing: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
Several rabbis argued that the Hebrew verb for coveting “tachamod” means to acquire that which you desire. They might have interpreted the Hebrew word for coveting that way because of the difficulty in banning thoughts and feelings that were not turned into actions. Whether we believe that the 10th Commandment refers to the prohibition to act or just to desire, coveting is displayed as a real danger. I believe that even if our thoughts are not considered a sin against God, by coveting we might be sinning against our selves.
We desire assets, attributes and status of other people because we might not believe that we can really achieve them ourselves by being who we are. The truth is that we can never be other people, even if we really want to be and are heavily invested in it.
We will always do things differently than others. Our way of reaching higher is always going to be unique. We are not even going to enjoy the work of our hands in the same way.
So, trying to be like others by having what they have is hopeless to begin with. That is a good thing to remember when we start gazing at what other people have.
I’m never going to be as smart as him, as happy as he is, as impressive as she is, or achieve in the same way. I can only succeed in what I do best. What we should really work on is the belief that we can truly achieve our own happiness.

(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)