23 June 2017

Parshas Korach – Do Not Covet – Rosh Chodesh Tammuz

Do Not Covet
By Roy S. Neuberger

“Lo sachmod … You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Shemos 20:14) 

This is the last of the Aseres Hadibros, positioned at the end of the series perhaps because these cosmic words would so clearly affect the future of Klal Yisroel

The antidote to “lo sachmod” is to be “sameach b’chelko,” satisfied with one’s lot. This ideal is held up by Chazal as the key to a proper life. (Pirkei Avos 4:1) Why should I try to be someone else? Hashem made me unique! 

To covet is to destroy life, both one’s own life and other’s lives. In the history of Am Yisroel, the trait of covetousness has been responsible for terrible jealousies which led to Churban Bayis Shaini and our present catastrophic Golus. This week’s Parshadescribes an instance of jealousy which marks one of the most tragic moments in the history of our Nation.

It all started way before Korach, however, at the very beginning of history. In Gan Eden, Chava, our primordial mother, was not quite satisfied, although she lived in the place that was, by definition, perfect. Far be it from me to comprehend what went on in her mind, but I wonder whether it was something like this: perhaps, she thought, Hashem was not one hundred percent correct in the way He set up the universe. 

“Am I really incapable of handling the distinction between good and evil? After all, Hashem created me with a brain. Surely, He could have trusted me with the capacity to distinguish between what is permitted and what is forbidden.”  

And so, in an almost-imperceptible way, Chava asserted her desire to be at least partially on an “equal footing” with Hashem. By asserting her “disagreement” with the way Hashem had designed the universe, she used the free will He had given her to try to disrupt His perfect plan. As a result, she introduced suffering into her own life and the life of the entire world. From that moment, death and tzouris entered the world, and we are living with the results … until the day when we can rectify this terrible sin of “lo sachmod” and return to Gan Eden

In this week’s Parsha, Korach could not tolerate the leadership role which the Ribono shel Olam had assigned to Moshe Rabbeinu. Korach was brilliant and illustrious, but he was not satisfied with his lot. As a result, the earth opened its mouth and swallowed him alive. Dissatisfaction with one’s lot is a basic challenge to Hashem. It doesn’t matter how talented or successful a person is, being sameach b’chelko is independent of other factors. The consequences of coveting what is not ours are intrinsically disastrous. 

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to engage in a personal conversation with President George W. Bush. My late father was honored at the White House, and the family accompanied him. In this grand setting, amidst a large gathering, I wanted to use the opportunity to speak to the President about Am Yisroel and Eretz Yisroel. Remarkably, I was able to speak personally with the President. During the course of this conversation, I told him why I believed he was suffering so much criticism from the press. I told him that, since he believed in G-d and held to high standards of morality, those who did not adhere to such standards were jealous of him and were trying to pull him down to their level. I know that he appreciated these words of encouragement. In fact, a few minutes later, one of his aides came over to thank me.

The world of politics, both past and present, is beset with such jealousies, and they introduce chaos into the world. Society can exist peacefully only if people are willing to be sameach b’chelko. The fabric of the world is pulled apart when someone cannot “fergin” another person’s success. 

As Rabbi Chanina says, 

“Pray for the welfare of the government, because if people did not fear it, a person would swallow his fellow alive.” (Pirkei Avos 3:2)

But does Hashem really expect us to control our emotions? 

My friends, as challenging as this may be, this is precisely what Hashem expects of us. Otherwise, why would the Torah command, “lo sachmod?” Do we not say every day, “You shall love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart…?” How can Hashem expect us to love Him? Well, that is exactly what He expects, and obviously, since He created us, He knows our capabilities. Working on our emotions is a major aspect of self-improvement, a subject upon which we must focus intently, especially now, during the summer months, as the Three Weeks approach and we try to prepare for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur

During this season, we are trying to re-make ourselves into the people we should be!

Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch zt”l says, 

“He who wishes not to sin must uproot the desire from his heart, for even the desire is itself a sin in G-d’s sight… A mortal lawgiver can decree, ‘You shall not murder’ … but only G-d can decree, ‘You shall not covet.’ He alone probes the mind and the heart. Before Him not only deeds, but also thoughts and feelings, are manifest….” (Shemos 20:14)

Parshas Korach teaches that we are capable of uprooting jealousy from our hearts. It is a huge avoda, but Hashem expects His children to reach the heights. This is our life work, and our success will bring Moshiach ben Dovid and the Bais Hamikdosh, may we see it soon in our days!
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Roy Neuberger, author and public speaker, can be reached at roy@2020vision.co.il.
© Copyright 2017 by Roy S. Neuberger

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