- Moses pleads with God to let him enter the Land of Israel with the people, but God once more refuses his request. (3:23–28)
- Moses orders the Children of Israel to pay attention and follow the laws given by God in order to be worthy of the land they are about to receive. (4:1–40)
- Specific areas of the land are set aside to serve as cities of refuge. (4:41–43)
- The covenant at Sinai and the Ten Commandments are recalled. Once again, the people are exhorted to heed God’s commandments. (5:1–30)
- Moses speaks the words of the Sh’ma, the credo of Judaism, and commands Israel to show their love for Adonai and keep God’s laws and ordinances. (6:1–25)
- Moses warns the people not to commit idolatry by worshiping the gods of the nations they will conquer in Israel. (7:1–11)
By Erika Schwartz
This is it! This Torah portion is the meat and potatoes (sorry Rabbi) of all that most of us know about the Bible. It contains the Ten Commandments. It contains the Shema. It contains the V’ahavta. I read this and realized that I was looking at a smorgasbord of possible topics on which to write (ah, there’s that food reference again). I read it over and over again, hoping that something would jump out at me and, finally, it did.
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not crave your neighbor’s house, or his field, or his male or female slave, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
In my humble opinion, G-d saved the most important Commandment for last. Because, if we choose to diligently follow only one Commandment, this one opens us to the infinite possibilities of the joy that G-d wants for all of us. And, therefore, in joy we just might decide to sample the other nine Commandments and perhaps even a few other things that He would like from us.
My own life experience has taught me that “coveting” erects a brick wall between me and the door to unbridled happiness. Behind that door is.... gratitude.
Now I can already hear some grumbling from some who have experienced serious challenges in your lives. Sadly, I can even hear grumbling from some who have barely been challenged but who see every obstacle as a monumental challenge to an attitude of gratitude (yes, they rhyme and, no, I didn’t make that one up). But “my own life experience” has taught me that, no matter what we’re going through (well, almost no matter . . .) we’re surrounded on a daily basis with things for which we can feel gratitude. It’s a choice. We can either look for the blessings that G-d has bestowed upon us or we can spend our lives “coveting” what others have.
I spent the first four decades of my life in complete despair over the fact that I had been left after the Holocaust with no father, aunts, uncles, cousins, or grandparents. My mother and I were the only survivors and my mother’s very soul had been so badly wounded that, even as a little girl, I was aware that my job was to take care of her rather than the other way around. I cried and grieved every time I saw my friends interact with a loving father, a loving grandparent, a loving aunt/uncle or play with cousins. I had none of those and it hurt all the time.
I also eventually realized that there was definitely a payoff to identifying as a Holocaust Survivor. It got me a lot of attention . . . the kind of attention that felt good to the little girl within me who was never comforted by a warm, loving mother.
And there were other challenges in my life over the years that very conveniently played into my view of myself as being a victim, being deprived, having an awful life. Over the years my husband and I dealt with a life-threatening illness, close family issues with addiction and near self-destruction, and my inability to get along at all with those who were closest to me.
So . . . I believed with all my heart that I had every reason to wake up each morning, count all the trials and tribulations that engulfed my life and feel very very sorry for myself. Life was awful and I just couldn’t figure out why I had been chosen to bear such burdens for my entire existence. There was nothing good.
The lesson to stop “coveting” and unlock the door to gratitude came at a 12-Step meeting. One hears many messages at these meetings and this one literally kicked me in the gut. When someone said that we actually had a choice as to what we allowed ourselves to dwell on, I heard that loud and clear and believed it from the moment I heard the words.
I began to choose to notice the beauty of flowers, the sound of birds, the beautiful planet on which we live. I looked around and chose to see all that was wonderful about my husband, sons, granddaughter, brothers and their families, friends and on and on and on. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started to learn how to experience the wonderful blessings that G-d had always put in front of me but which I had always turned away from with a blind eye.
It wasn’t easy and it didn’t change overnight. Once I had made the ironclad decision that I would not allow covetous thoughts to dwell long in my brain (and that included resentments also), it was hard work to reprogram a middle-aged brain. It took turning on music and singing along when an obsessively bad thought refused to leave. You can’t think bad thoughts when you’re singing. It took forcing myself to list positive things about someone I loved when all of their shortcomings were rattling aimlessly in my head and refusing to leave. It took years for the desire to be grateful to turn into a habit of grateful thinking.
This process started over 25 years ago and, with practice and determination, the “coveting” has disappeared and gratitude has taken its place. From that point on, everything was possible. And that’s pretty much the end of my story.
G-d, in His infinite wisdom, determined that the reminder to not covet was important enough to emblazon on those precious tablets. I’m here to tell you that He was absolutely right.