“Covet” is a strange word that is rarely used today except to cite the last of the Ten Commandments, “Lo Tachmod, Do not covet” (Exodus 20:14).

The desire for things that others have is an apparent outgrowth of the original human survival instinct. A person who is cold will want the warm coat that someone else is wearing. A person who is traveling a long way by foot will desire someone else’s comfortable car. These desires are natural and make us work harder to acquire what we need and what we want.

Contrary to what most people would think, “Do not covet” is not a prohibition against thoughts of desire. It is okay to notice what someone else has and to wish for something similar for oneself. The problem starts when one begins to scheme how to obtain it from the present owner.

It is important to note that this prohibition is quite contrary to most of the contemporary images and philosophy that permeate modern culture, especially TV and movies. Coveting has many names. Take, for instance, the specific prohibition of not coveting another’s wife. While adultery is an obvious transgression, what about encouraging a couple to separate and then becoming romantically involved with the newly-divorced person. The prohibition of Lo Tachmod applies to any effort to separate a couple if one covets the spouse.

Of course, it is best to be happy with what one possesses and not to look at the possessions of others. Torah law, we see, deals with the true nature of human beings. Wanting something similar to what another has is fine, but even thinking about taking that which belongs to another…well, let’s just not go there.

Copyright © 2012 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.