Torah Portion:  Jethro(Yitro) Exodus(Sh’mot) 18:1-20:23

Haftorah Reading: Isaiah 6:1-7:6; 9:5-6

This week we have studied a Torah portion named for the father-in-law of Moshe. Jethro heard of all the great things G-d had done for Israel and came to visit Moshe to see for himself. He also brought along Moshe’s wife and two sons.

Of course, we also read the Ten Commandments in this section. It could be said this is one of the most famous writings in history. They had adorned many public buildings in America. They have appeared in the paintings of some of the world’s most well-known artists, such as Rembrandt. I would think that most of us, at one time or another, have had to memorize the Ten Commandment as part of our studies. In many ways our legal system has been patterned after them.

In our modern age we hear them a bit less frequently. In fact, some present day Christian leaders have gone so far as to say the Old Testament is no longer of any value to Christians today since we are under grace. They preach that all these rules, like the Old Testament, no longer apply to Christians. This is a dangerous and flawed theology.

I want us to take a close look at a few of the Commandments. In Exodus/Sh’mot 20:14 we read, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his man servant, nor his maid servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.” On the surface this commandment is different from other commandments that require action. To covet, or desire what someone else has is an emotion, not a deed or word. Surely we cannot control our emotions. So why would G-d tell us not to covet? Also, why should the occasional lapse when we covet or envy our neighbor matter if we do not act on it, as long as we do not harm another person.

I believe this verse is relating a deeper truth to us. What we believe, how deeply we trust G-d, affects how we feel and how we see the world around us.  Envy or covetousness is one of the prime drivers of violence in our society. As we look through scripture envy led to the first murder when Cain killed Abel. It led Avraham and Isaac to fear for their lives. They believed the fact they both had  beautiful wives the local rulers would kill them and take their wives. Envy was also at the heart of Joseph’s brother’s hatred of him because he had special treatment by his father. This led them to contemplate killing Joseph. Instead they sold him into slavery.

By these examples and many other Biblical stories, we see how covetousness can lead to the breaking of many of the other commandments. So, as we consider this commandment prohibiting envy we can see and understand how this final commandment really lies at the heart of all the other commandments. 

So how do we keep this commandment? We are here on this earth because G-d desired us to be in this world at this time. We have what G-d wants us to have.  Because of our trust in the Heavenly Father and his unending love for us we can rely on Him and have peace and thankfulness for what we have and where we are. Why should we want what others have or to be someone besides who He created us to be? When we define ourselves by any other measure – someone else’s life, possessions, looks, we will be caught up in envy, strife and unhappiness. Our only measurement should be, “Am I the best person G-d created me to be?”

So, what is the antidote or cure for envy or coveting? Gratitude. Here is a great quote I read this week, “Who is rich? One who rejoices in what one has.” Our challenge in a material world is to thank G-d every day for what He has given us. What others have should not diminish our gratitude for what the Father has done for us. Celebrate what He has given you and what He does for you every day.

My last point considers what the word, “remember” actually means in Exodus 20:8. We read, “Remember the Sabbath.” What was He saying? I think in many of the places where this word remember is used in scripture it is to convey much more than just remembering. It also means an act of faithfulness. We read G-d remembered Noah and He remembered Sarah and opened her womb. These are only two examples of times G-d was saying to his people that He was always there. They were not alone. G-d is saying the same to us. He is with us and will supply all our needs. There is no need to covet because He is with us and there is a covenant between us.