Rabbi Michael Rosensweig
Rabbi Michael Rosensweig

Lo Tachmod: The Perfect Culmination of the Asseret ha-Dibrot

The centerpiece of Parshat Yitro is the Asseret ha-Dibrot. The special significance of these ten themes, the content of the direct Divine Revelation, is axiomatic. The unique stature of the Asseret ha-Dibrot is further highlighted by the perspective articulated by R. Saadiah Gaon, Ramban and others who argue that these ten commandments succinctly encapsulate the totality of the 613 mitzvot! This view might also justify the controversial custom to stand during the reading of this section. Rambam (Teshuvot, no. 60) vehemently opposed this practice, arguing that it implied an unacceptable axiological hierarchy in the text or mitzvot of the Torah. If the Asseret ha-Dibrot embody the totality of the mitzvot, rising for its recitation is hardly problematic. (For another approach to this issue, see Mesorah I, 17-18 )

At first glance, however, the fact that this crucial series of mitzvot concludes with the prohibition of Lo Tachmod is puzzling. One would anticipate that a list of this magnitude would begin with a mitzvah that would set the tone for the entire unit, and culminate with a theme that powerfully conveys the spiritually ambitious agenda of Torah life. The inaugural mitzvah fits this expectation, as it focuses on belief in Hashem, the "foundation of foundations (yesod ha-yesodot"- Rambam, Hil. Yesodei Ha-Torah 1:1). Indeed, Ramban (Sefer Ha-Mizvot, Aseh 1) explains that Behag omitted this principle from the list of 613 mitzvot because it transcends the status of a mitzvah, as it is the foundation of all mitzvot. The conclusion of Lo Tachmod, on the other hand, does not seem to conform with the anticipated pattern. The prohibition against coveting one's neighbors belongings, focusing also on homes, slaves, various animals, and finally "kol asher le-reiechah" hardly seems inspirational or climactic.

There are other difficulties associated with this final dibrah. The term "chimud", as Ibn Ezra (Devarim 5:17) notes, is ambiguous. In some contexts, it signifies the action of theft, while in other circumstances it refers to thought alone. Why would the Torah utilize such confusing terminology in such a crucial context? The relationship between Lo Tachmod and robbery is examined by Ramban, R. Behai and other commentators. Although they suggest that Lo Tachmod represents gezel in the Asseret ha-Dibrot, they do not fully explain why this more ambiguous concept is preferable to the more concrete gezel!

However, upon further examination, we can perhaps appreciate more fully the Torah's choice, and the symmetry between the beginning and end of this transcendent list of mitzvot. Both the first and concluding mitzvot of the Asseret ha-Dibrot engender significant discussion among the commentators inasmuch as each is inherently an attitudinal demand, constituting legislation in the realm of emotions/belief. Herein precisely lies the unique ambition of the Torah as a value system that seeks to transform and define the human personality. The Torah insists that man's perspective can and must be shaped by the spiritual-halachic values that give life its purpose. This is true not only with respect to belief in Hashem, without which life would cease to have meaning, but is also true with regard to the equally indispensable value of a proper approach to material goods.

The Torah intentionally bypasses "gezel" for "chimud" precisely because the term "chimud" refers also to planning for or obsessing about attaining someone else's property. There is much evidence to indicate that the improper focus upon another's property constitutes the root of this prohibition even according to those authorities who demand that the planning be implemented, as well. Rambam (Hil. Gezeilah 1:9), for example, insists that this violation cannot occur without the attainment of the object in question, yet he characterizes the prohibition as one lacking in action - "lav she-ein bo masseh"- with respect to the absence of malkot! (See Raavad's gloss on this point!) R. Yonah and Ibn Ezra, in their Torah commentaries, explain that this prohibition seeks to inculcate the halachic approach to the material world by projecting the ideal of "sameach be-chelko" (satisfaction with one's material lot in life), thereby also guaranteeing mutual respect and limiting friction between individuals. Ramban (Kedoshim) posits that Lo Tachmod is the analogue to the obligation to love one's neighbor ("ve-ahavta le-reiachah ka-mochah"), perceived by Chazal as a major tenet (kelal gadol) of the Torah. The fact that such apparently mundane items as slaves, animals and "kol asher le-reiechah" round out the list of Lo Tachmod objects actually reinforces the ambition and pervasiveness of this ideal.

Ibn Ezra (Shemot 20:13) explains that one can condition his thoughts and desires in accordance with halachic principles and ideals as long as one perceives halachic norms as absolute values. He argues that one who is truly committed to Torah observance cannot conceive of violating its principles any more than a simple commoner can realistically dream of marrying into the royal family. Just as a sane individual does not seriously entertain the possibility that he will sprout wings and ascend to the heavens, a committed halachic observer is incapable of becoming seriously obsessed with the inappropriate attainment of his fellow's belonging. Thus, Lo Tachmod constitutes an extraordinarily ambitious agenda that is rooted in a pervasive commitment to the notion of a " halachic reality".

R. Samson Raphael Hirsch notes that while the first group of the Asseret ha-Dibrot begins with theological commitment and then shifts to obligations of actions, the second half of the Dibrot commence with a focus on actions but conclude with values that are critical to an ideological commitment. Values and a commitment to principle is the foundation of the Torah, but the Torah's special approach to life demands that these be concretized in activities and norms. At the same time, the focus on actions and norms would be insufficient if it did not, in turn, produce and generate a more intricate halachic value system to govern the spiritual life of the committed Torah Jew. The process that begins with a commitment to faith- "Anochi Hashem Elokechah"- culminates with the profound impact of halachic reality manifested in Lo Tachmod, as the reciprocal interaction of thought and deed shape and define the halachic personality. Properly understood, Lo Tachmod is indeed the appropriate culmination and climax for the ambitious program of avodat Hashem outlined in the Asseret ha-Dibrot and elaborated in Taryag Mizvot.

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