Have You Ever Met a Person Who Wants to be an Eagle?
The last of the Ten Commandments is an order not covet. Desiring someone or something is a thought; can one be commanded not to want something? You can tell me not to steal, kill, or not do an action, but how can one be told not to want something? Coveting is a thought, something I can’t control.
Imagine seeing an eagle effortlessly and gracefully soaring in the sky; are you jealous? Does the thought go through your mind, “I wish I had those wings? Traveling would be easier, and after work I’d be a lot calmer if I could glide through the air each night on the way home.” One doesn’t covet a bird’s wings because the reality is that humans don’t have wings, and we don’t covet something impossible for us to obtain.
In the same way, an intelligent person realizes that he will only get wealth if G-d allots it to him. If one doesn’t believe in G-d, none of this is applicable but most people have prayed at some point in their lives. It might be for a job or that a friend or loved one recovers from an illness; most people pray when they are confronted by the possibility of death or some other excessive challenge. If you have ever prayed, it means you believe in G-d. You might feel far from Him or that He has no significance in your life right now, but if you’ve prayed, you have to be honest with yourself and acknowledge that you believe in G-d.
It doesn’t make sense to think that G-d would create such a complex world, from the complexity of the DNA molecule to the seemingly simple synchronization necessary to grow a tree—sun, rain, soil, oxygen, carbon dioxide and other factors that harmoniously work together—yet abandon it once He made it. He involves Himself in this world and knows what’s right for each of us, how much wealth, what type of family we were placed in, how much talent we’re born with, what challenges he or she will have, and many other things that define us. It’s as if each of us has been given our own individual workshop for character development and have all the tools necessary to succeed in our specially designed workshop.
With this in mind, we can finally understand how the Torah can give a commandment not to covet. The same way that we don’t covet a bird’s wings because we know they’re obviously not meant for us, so too we shouldn’t covet something that belongs to someone else because G-d obviously didn’t intend it for us. Beauty and sensuality are not the only things a man covets in another’s wife, sometimes he covets his friend’s wife’s ability to manage a home efficiently or have a high paying career track or her ability to be calm in the midst of challenges of the day or her creativity or ability as a conversationalist, the list seems endless. However, when a man realizes that, unless there is a mental disorder or severe lack of character or integrity, his wife is the one for him, the things he perceives as negatives are things he needs to work on. Her not being the greatest home manager might cause him to be a kinder person because he will help her in the areas in which she is challenged. He might be embarrassed that she isn’t a conversationalist but maybe his challenge is not to care what other people think of him and his family; he can use the opportunity to be more self-confident and use it as an opportunity to learn how to be more supportive of his wife. The opportunities are endless but only if one sees them as opportunities. If one covets something that doesn’t belong to him, he just desires, which leads nowhere. A wise man once said, “coveting doesn’t give you the person or object you covet, and it doesn’t take it away from the one from whom you are coveting.” When people realize this, they won’t covet because they will understand that when something belongs to someone else, it is as if it’s wings on a bird—not meant for you.
If one takes this idea seriously it will lead to happiness because you will be happy with what you have. Instead of spending life chasing after things and people that aren’t meant for you, you will relish in the things you possess. About 2,000 years ago our sages came to this conclusion when they wrote, “Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his lot.” Next time you have a fleeting moment of desiring something that belongs to someone else, look at it as wings on a bird.