Parshas Yisro

Parshas Yisro:
Taking the Call


 By: Rabbi Tzvi Price





Sometimes a parable is given to explain a concept in the Torah and it becomes so famous and accepted that it earns the right to be considered ‘the classic comment’ regarding the issue. One of these statements, made by the Ibn Ezra, is found in this week’s Parsha. And as we shall see, this classic comment deserves a second look.
The last of the Ten Commandments is ‘Do not covet (lo sachmod)… anything that belongs to your friend.’ (Shemos 20,14) A slightly different wording of this commandment appears in Devarim 5,18 where the Torah states, “… Do not desire (lo sisaveh) your neighbor’s house….” Many commentators make the point that the Torah did not word these statements in terms of one’s actions. It could have said, “Don’t put pressure on your friend to sell you his thing.” Rather, it forbade the negative internal feelings of covet and desire.
The Ibn Ezra writes that it is quite reasonable to wonder about this mitzvah. “How could the Torah forbid a person to desire in his heart a beautiful thing if his eyes see it as desirable?” he asks. The Ibn Ezra answers:
Know that a right-minded peasant who sees the beautiful daughter of a king will not covet in his heart to marry her, because he will know that it is out of the realm of possibility. Would this villager be so crazy as to want to have wings to fly in the sky? A villager does not desire a princess the way that a man does not desire his mother though she might be beautiful because it has been ingrained in him from a young age that his mother is forbidden to him. An intelligent person will easily understand that the scheming that derives from a man’s wisdom and understanding will not obtain for him a wife or wealth. He will only acquire it if Hashem apportions it out to him, as it says in Koheles, “And to another man who did not work for it shall his portion be given.” And the Sages have said, “Children, Life, and Livelihood are not dependant on one’s merit, but rather, on one’s destiny.” And because of this a wise person will not desire or covet. …[Rather] he will be happy with his lot and will not focus his mind on coveting or desiring that which is not his, because he will know that Hashem does not want to give that which is not his to him. He will know that his strength, his shrewd plans, and his conniving will not help him. Therefore, he will trust in his Creator that He will sustain him and that He will do that which is good in His eyes.”
These words of the Ibn Ezra have become so well-known because they ring so true. And the longer one lives and observes the myriad strivings of men in their attempt to acquire their desires, the louder do those words ring.
However, there is something about the Ibn Ezra’s answer which needs clarification. According to most halachic authorities, a person does not transgress the prohibitions of Lo Sachmod and Lo Sisaveh until his desire and covetous feelings lead to some kind of actual plan or action to obtain the object of his desire. In other words, he must decide to actually go and pressure his friend to sell him the item that he wants so badly. It is true that the Torah forbids the feelings of desire in a person’s heart. However, those feelings have to be so strong that they motivate him to take action. While most people will at one time or another desire something owned by someone else, relatively few actually can’t control their desire to the point that they actually decide to take action to get it. So in fact, the Torah is not quite as questionable as we first thought. It does not forbid a person to have simple feelings of desire about another person’s property. If so, what was the Ibn Ezra’s question in the first place?
The answer is that all of Torah can be lived at two very different levels. It can be lived at the halachic level. What does it take to fulfill the Torah’s halachic demands? Halachically, one does not transgress Lo Sachmod  until his feelings of desire motivate him to take action. However, the Torah can be lived on a much more inspired plain. At this higher dimension, the question one must ask oneself is “What does the Torah want me to become?” It is at this level that the Ibn Ezra is asking his classic question. How can the Torah expect me to become the kind of person that does not at all desire other people’s property?

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 Lo Sachmod
Delivered by:
 Rav Ari Marburger Shlit”a

~ Related Shiur ~
Bava Metzia,
Perek 1, Daf 5:
The Coveted Esrog
R’ Rav Chaim Meyer Roth
Dayan Bais Din Maysharim

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The Torah is both a guidebook for society and for the individual. The halachic requirements of the Torah apply to all of us equally as members of Torah society. However, one must not forget that the Torah calls to each and every one of us to reach our own personal greatness. It’s a private and intimate call, and it’s different for each person. Maybe we should ask ourselves a tough question. Are we going to put the Torah on hold or are we willing to take the call?
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