Holy and Secular – “Unmitigated gall!” a visitor said, “They should give us our money back.” And another visitor said, “This country has no shame. If they decided to collect an admission fee for the exhibition, the decision should not be changed suddenly, in the middle of the day.” And a third visitor said, “If they did change their minds, they should at least return our money. This way, we turned out to be chumps.”
The people whose voices were heard on the radio were very angry. They paid a handsome sum of money in order to visit the jubilee exhibition, but then suddenly, in the middle of the day, it was decided to cancel the admission fee. The people who had already paid the entrance fee felt cheated.
But in the end, after the round of bitter people, the radio broadcast the voice of a woman who made my day. I do not remember her name, I only remember where she lives: Netivot. This old woman who also visited the exhibition reacted differently to the cancelled admission fee. “Very good,” said this woman who had paid the full entrance fee, “let them enjoy it. I am very happy for all those who will not have to pay.”
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“One day, I went to a movie with an Indian acquaintance of mine,” said Azriel Karlibach, the founder of Maariv, “What we saw there was an American propaganda movie. The movie showed how an American started out as a simple laborer in a factory. At the end of the week he received his pay and bought himself a suit. The next month he bought a second suit and was immediately given a higher position, changing his two-room apartment for a bigger one. He bought himself a bigger car, while his wife was able to improve her kitchen with many automatic gadgets. Now the two of them dreamed of having their own swimming pool… This was meant to teach you how wonderful the dwelling places are in America, and how happy all the people are…”
Afterwards, the Indian acquaintance turned to Karlibach. “Tell me, is this really true? Is everybody there really so unsatisfied? … In other words, aren’t they ever happy with what they have? First two rooms, then three, then a house, a car, a swimming pool. The impression one gets is that they are forever hungry, from morning to night, each and every day! Those poor people…” (Source: a radio broadcast, Record of a Journey).
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The common view of the Ten Commandments is to divide it into two sections. The first five commandments are between man and G-d, while the next five are commands between one man and another. This implies that the command, “Do not covet” [Shemot 20:14], means not to cause harm to another person. Once we begin to want our neighbor’s home, we may actually take it away from him.
However, the prohibition to covet something has a deeper meaning. It is not only a mitzva between man and man, it is in essence a mitzva between a man and himself. When I begin to covet something that is not mine, I am causing harm first and foremost to myself, I am damaging my own satisfaction with my possessions and my family. I am causing harm to my own inner sense of completeness.
Those who complained about the jubilee exhibition were not upset about the entrance fee at the beginning of the day. Only when they found out that others were not charged for the entrance did they feel injured. What good did they get out of this? None. They paid exactly the same amount as the old woman from Netivot. But they were upset and foolish, while the old woman was happy for the others and continued to feel happy with herself.
There is nothing wrong with a person who advances himself, earns an increase in his salary, and moves to a larger home. There is nothing wrong with a person who raises his earning power and hence achieves a higher standard of living. There is a problem when a person begins to desire things that are beyond his reach. If your income level is enough for a simple car, be happy with your situation. You should also be happy for your neighbor, even if he is able to afford better things. Whatever you have is the best you can achieve. There will always be somebody who has more than you have. There will also always be somebody who has less than you have. Smile, be happy with your portion, and do not covet anything better.
Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute (www.zomet.org.il). Translated from the Hebrew by Moshe Goldberg. To subscribe to receive the complete version of Shabbat BeShabbato please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.