Thursday, May 29, 2008

Rami's Reply to Mike's May 28 Post

I am always fascinated to learn about your own spiritual and mystical experiences. While we must be careful not to turn these private moments with God into grist for the daytime television mill, I think people benefit from hearing about such things. It helps them recognize similar moments in their own lives. Anyone, as you said, on to Commandment Ten.

The Tenth Commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his ass, nor anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:14), is different from all the rest.

In commandments One through Nine it is behavior that is prohibited; in this final commandment it is thoughts that are outlawed. How do you prohibit thoughts? There is lots we can say about this, but I don’t want to overwhelm you or our readers, so let me offer just one comment now, and others as our conversation on the Tenth Commandment unfolds.

Let me start with one of the most innovative commentators on this commandment, Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra, a leading Spanish Jewish scholar (1093-1167). I am paraphrasing, but here is his three–part understanding of how the Tenth Commandment works:

First, recognize that the Torah is talking about your neighbors, people with whom you share a common socio–economic status. You and your neighbor probably desire similar things, and if your neighbor has something you both desire, but that you do not as yet possess, it is both normal and natural for you to covet it. Yet the Torah prohibits this. Since the Torah would not focus on something as natural “keeping up with the Goldbergs,” something else must be at issue here.

Second, Ibn Ezra said, imagine you are not talking about your neighbor but about the king (Ibn Ezra wrote in the time of the Spanish Crown). The king owns things way beyond your wildest dreams, but because the king is so far above your “pay grade” you don’t really covet what he possesses. You might covet your neighbor’s ass, but owning the king’s herds never crosses your mind.

Third, he said, now remember that you and your neighbor are the Image and Likeness of God, and being the Image and Likeness of God is greater than being king! So if you would not covet what is the king’s, all the more you would not covet what is your neighbor’s if you really believed your neighbor to be the Image and Likeness of God. But you do covet that which belongs to your neighbor! That can only mean that either you have forgotten that your neighbor is the Image and Likeness or God, or you deny that your neighbor is the Image and Likeness of God. In either case coveting what belongs to your neighbor is a symptom of a sin, and not the sin itself; the sin is that by denying the Image and Likeness you are denying God as well!

Following the logic of Ibn Ezra we now see that the Final Commandment is the mirror image of the First. By coveting what belongs to your neighbor you deny the reality of God. By denying the reality of God you deny the First Commandment: I am YHVH your God.

The “cure” for covetousness is not to reign in your desires, but to regain your faith in the existence of God and humanity as the Image and Likeness of God.

I love the reasoning here. Another fine example of Yiddishe Kup, the Jewish mind at work.

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