Rabbi Benjamin Yudin
The Tenth Step
Rashi (Bereishis 33:20) cites the Yalkut Shimoni (Yirmiyahu 23:29) who comments that just "as a hammer that shatters a rock", similarly do the words of Torah splinter into many interpretations. Rashi is reminding us of the excitement found in Torah, that it may be understood on many different levels. In light of the above, I would like to ask what are the Ten Commandments and why the last one?
The Panim Yafos (from the author of the Sefer Haflaah) presents a fascinating insight to the Ten Commandments. Commenting on the verse in Parshas Yisro (19:6) "these are the words that you shall speak to the children of Israel", Rashi says "no more and no less". The Haflaah reminds us of the halacha (Yevomos 47a) that when a potential convert comes for instruction, we teach him some kalos - some of the minor, less challenging mitzvos, and some chamuros - some of the major, more challenging mitzvos. He thus understands the above Rashi as Hashem instructed Moshe to proceed slowly with Bnei Yisrael, and provide a gradual initiation into Torah and mitzvos. (I just find it a challenging exercise to identify which of the Ten Commandments are in the category of minor, and which are major laws). Indeed, the Talmud (Kreisus 9a) learns many of the laws of conversion from the Sinaitic experience, thus the reference of the Haflaah is most insightful.
What are the Ten Commandments? The Chidushei Harim (Shemos 6:6) interestingly connects three sets of ten ma'amaros, makkos, and commandments. Hashem created the world with ten ma'amaros (statements or pronouncements) (Avos 5:1). The ten makkos plagues, affirmed His being the Creator, and His demonstrating His absolute control over nature. Through the ten makkos the Jewish nation experienced Hashem's tender loving care on their behalf, sparing them from any suffering and preparing them for the acceptance of the Ten Commandments. Just as the ten ma'amaros created a foundation of spirituality for physical world, the Ten Commandments was that foundation for the Jewish nation created at Sinai.
What are the Ten Commandments? The Chizkuni has a novel approach to the Ten Commandments. He notes a progression beginning with acceptance of the absolute sovereignty of Hashem, and each subsequent dibra (commandment) is an increased level of commitment towards honoring Hashem, refining mans' character, and polishing his image of G-d in which he was created. Thus, not only do we accept Hashem as a Creator and a Director of the world, but one may not partner any other being or belief with Him. In addition, even His name is treated with utmost sanctity. Moreover, we not only believe in Him, but emulate Him by ceasing all our creativity on Shabbos, as He ceased to create. We further honor Him as the Creator by honoring parents in their role as creators. As man was created in the image of G-d, this belief in G-d is further extended to the prohibition to murder. Not only may one not kill an individual, but even to violate their soul through immorality is the next realm of prohibition. We are further forbidden to steal, either man or his property, and even to testify falsely. Finally, the tenth step in the realm of spiritual perfection is lo sachmod, the prohibition of coveting the possessions of the next one.
One can ask, how can the Torah legislate to one's feelings and cravings? To answer this, I would like to share the teaching of the Rakanti on lo sachmod - not to covet. He notes that this is not only the culmination of the Ten Commandments, but, citing (Psalms 119:86) "all your commandments are faithful (emunah)", he understands that all of the Ten Commandments and indeed our 613 mitzvos are to enhance our emunah - belief in Him. If one believes that He manages and runs the world, then if my neighbor has certain possessions and assets, it's because he needs them to accomplish his avodah - his unique personalized service of Hashem. If I don't have them, it's not that a mistake was made On High, but those same gifts and assets might very well not be beneficial to me for my exclusive avodah. Someone asked his friend how his business was, he answered "ken zein besser - it could be better." The Chofetz Chaim zt"l overheard the conversation and asked, "how do you know?"
Thus, the Rakanti helps us attain the progression of the Chizkuni. By appreciating and accepting the first step, namely His existence and involvement in every aspect of our lives, we can more understand and accept the tenth step of not coveting.
The Talmud (Yuma 38b) teaches that each individual is destined to receive exactly what they need and what is coming to them; one does not take from another, even a "hairs-breath". Moreover, the Talmud (Sotah 9a) teaches that if one is jealous of the next one's possession, not only does he not get the object of his desire but oftentimes, tragically, because he did not appreciate what he did have, will lose that too.
Finally, I believe lo sachmod is a recipe for healthy living. "Who is the rich one?", we are taught in Avos (4:1), "the someiach b'chelko." This is usually translated as the one happy and satisfied with his lot. True! I would like to suggest in addition, the one who is happy with what the next one has! The realization that I have what I need, and if I don't have it, it is because He knows that I don't need it, and it's best for me this way, keeps one out of the rat-race of life, enabling one to truly enjoy both this world and the next.