The Covet Calculator
“First things first,” so the expression goes…
The great 13th century scholar Ramban (Nahmanides) presents a remarkable perspective about things that are found in an order or sequence in the Torah (Bible). His position is that whenever you see a progression, or list, the importance of that which is listed increases as the list progresses. So the 2nd item on a list is more important than the 1st and the 6th more than the 4th. There is an ascending progression of significance, with the most important item coming last. The brilliant Biblical commentator goes further, and states that not only is the last item on the list the most important but a person who is rigorous in his/her focus on that will enable himself to master all of the items that preceded it.
There are many things that are presented in a sequence or list form in the Torah, including but not limited to names of places visited, and positive and negative commandments.
The giant, Maimonides, writes that commandments are tools through which man refines himself so he can most successfully relate to and master his world. So if, from time to time, we have lists of directives or commandments, it’s beneficial to have a look at the placement of things on that list to better understand how to focus our efforts at growth and self-refinement.
Many would say the most important list ever presented to mankind is the Ten Commandments. This list begins with the commandment (or foundation) of belief, and culminates with the prohibition against coveting something that doesn’t belong to you. One would assume that the most important is the first commandment – that which serves as the axiom upon which all that we think and do is based. What could be more of a determinant for one’s life direction than a well-conceived, deeply investigated, belief system? What could consume more energy? What could be more challenging and more defining?
The position of Nahmanides is that the most challenging and defining directive, the commandment that should consume the most energy, need the deepest investigation, and that which will be the biggest determinant of one’s life direction – is number ten: Don’t Covet. Don’t Covet the wife, or any of the primary or secondary possessions of your friend/neighbor.
It’s true, Nahmanides would say, you are prohibited from killing, stealing and raping. You must never falsely testify or commit adultery. You must respect a parent, keep the Shabbat (Sabbath), and you must guard your belief in G-d to the extent that His name is never mentioned in vain, and anything that confuses that belief is removed. But the commandment that is most challenging to the human being, and will therefore overwhelmingly establish the person he will become, is categorized as a sin of the heart: Coveting.
To emotionally yearn for, crave, or desire something you haven’t earned and to which you have no right – a possession that has been secured by someone you probably know, and with whom you may share a relationship, will preclude you from the adherence to many other things – even those which on the surface seem more critical and life sustaining.
When one allows himself to deeply desire something that he hasn’t rightfully earned – or that should remain beyond his grasp, he will break many rules, having crossed the red line where many other inappropriate things will be rationalized as acceptable.
So, in this period of instant (just about) everything, I’ll suggest a simple system for one to catch himself before he begins to slide down the slippery slope of coveting. Let’s call it: The Covet Calculator.
The first indicator is use of the term: “deserve.” If you begin to tell yourself you deserve certain things – or if others tell you that you deserve something – pause and carefully consider whether you’re reaching for something that should not come in your direction. You may not be coveting at this point, but you may be on the road to doing so.
The second indicator: A conversation, glance, or focus that went on too long. If you find yourself lengthening a discussion, beyond what would be commonplace or expected, locking eyes for a second or two longer than appropriate, or expending a disproportionate amount of mental or emotional energy thinking about something you want to acquire – you’ve entered, or may soon be entering a covet zone.
The third, and most overt sign that you’re over the tipping point, is that you’ve committed emotionally to an individual or possession that is beyond your realm, and you’re beginning to plan ways to engage it more intimately or directly.
Review and study the Ten Commandments. Look at them as a list. Think about the fact that “first things aren’t necessarily first” and “it all starts at the end.” Find a quiet time to run a few of your own life experiences through this model and get a sense of your Covet Calculation. By doing so, you will have taken courageous steps forward in refining who you are and better ensuring your happiness and success.