Parashat Yitro 5781

3 February 2021 – 21 Shevat 5781

Rabbi Yuval Keren

The centre of Parashat Yitro is no doubt the giving of the Ten Commandments. These are regarded as the pillars of Jewish and indeed, human faith and code of conduct. Yet how easy is it to abide by the Ten Commandments? Which one of them is the most challenging to practice?

If we examine the Commandments one by one, we will find that none of them is easy and straightforward. ‘I am Adonai Your God’ requires the believer to believe in the one-and-only God. According to a recent House of Commons report nearly 25% of Brits say they do not believe in God. 25% others are not too sure. ‘Do not have other gods before Me’ seems to be broken daily when some of us worship pop-idols, and others make routine offerings to the god of Mammon, the god of money and material wealth. Even the most pious of Jews can sometimes confuse their Rebbe with God.

OMG! So many of us casually take God’s name in vain every time we are surprised, puzzled, annoyed or scared.

No matter how hard we try and make the effort, we fail again and again at honouring our parents. When we are young we get annoyed by those people who constantly try to control us, pretend that what they want is the best for us, and seem to always try and get something from us. When older they seem to become a constant burden and we can never completely be there for them when they have so many health issues. No wonder that the most common disorder transmitted by Jewish parents is guilt!

The list of challenges we have with the Ten Commandments goes on. Yet in my eyes the most challenging of all is the last on the list: Do not covet your neighbour’s house, your neighbour’s wife, servants, animals, and all that is your neighbour’s. (Exodus 20:17)

It is challenging because it involved thought rather than action. While stealing and bearing false witness happens in the realm of action, cavorting does not. While others are perhaps hard to keep, they are easy to determine.

Yet, when it comes to coveting, it occurs in your thought, and it is impossible to stop this thought.

Also, why does this commandment begin with giving us details, and concludes with “and all that is your neighbour’s”?

Perhaps when we look at someone else, we tend to judge them by one or two characters we feel we lack in ourselves. This might be their house, their status, sports car, good looks, age, health, or their greener grass. Jealousy is then easy to settle and the feeling that we would have loved to be in their shoes. If we examine the person as a whole, we will find that no other person’s world is perfect. Nobody would doubt that Churchill, was one of the most successful statesmen of his time. Yet, Churchill called his severe depression ‘my black dog’. Albert Einstein was a slow developer as a child, so much so that his parents had to take him to a doctor. Robin Williams, one of the most prolific actors of all times, took his own life because he could not bear life any longer.

One successful way of applying the commandment ‘do not covet’ is to look at others as if they were not different from us, with all our flaws and faults. This is the essence of the most important of all commandments, and the one missing from the grand list of Ten, but ever present in all ethical rules: ‘Love your fellow as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18).

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