Parashat Yitro

Love of God and Material Desire

There is a lot to learn from the commandment not to covet.

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Provided by Canfei Nesharim, providing Torah wisdom about the importance of protecting our environment.

The Ten Commandments given in Parashat Yitro culminate with the command not to covet: "You shall not covet your neighbor's house. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or whatever belongs to your neighbor (Exodus 20:14)." Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg, a 19th century Torah commentator, explores this commandment, offering a Jewish approach to spiritual living and material consumption.

Rabbi Mecklenberg relates this verse to another commandment: "you shall love the Eternal One your God with all your heart (Deuteronomy 6:5)." Why, Rabbi Mecklenberg asks, would it not have been sufficient to write "You shall love God… with your heart"? What is the significance of "all your heart"?

My Cup Overfloweth

The Torah emphasizes loving God with all of one's heart, Rabbi Mecklenberg explains, to teach that a person should be totally committed to serving God, and not split between love of the Eternal and love of physical pleasures. When a person is wholly in love with the Infinite One, that person will not feel an attraction to material indulgence.

canfei nesharimRabbi Mecklenburg uses the metaphor of a cup, filled to the brim, with no room for anything else--representing a person full of love of God, with no room for pure physicality. Such an individual feels so satiated in his or her core that the desire for gratification from the physical world totally evaporates.

Love of God can keep physical lust at bay, and filling one's cup with connection to God can prevent over-attachment to physical pleasures. That's why, in our Torah portion, God ends the Ten Commandments with "Do not covet." After all, how can one stand before God in love after indulging in the most base physical desires--for comfort, money, food, and sexual pleasure?

In addition, if a person prefers to indulge always in the next available pleasure, he or she will have little patience for the spiritual work and sacrifice that often only bring satisfaction after much time and commitment.

Modern Consumerism

Rabbi Mecklenburg's teaching is not only relevant for an unabashed hedonist, but also for someone who works to be close to God while enjoying a range of modern consumer products--an IPod, a nice stereo, a fancy restaurant meal, the latest designer clothes. His teachings do not seem to say that a Divine-aware life demands living like an ascetic or in poverty. Rather, a Jew should consume as a means to serving God.

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Jonathan Neril

Jonathan Neril is the project manager of the Jewish Environmental Parsha Initiative. He is a rabbinical student in his fourth year of Jewish learning in Israel. He received an MA and BA at Stanford with a focus on global environmental issues.