Let’s begin with the old saying that reminds us: “It’s the Ten Commandments, not the Ten Suggestions.” This is more than a joke; it is the foundation of our moral behavior.
How about the Tenth Commandment: “Thou shalt not covet”? How can we be commanded to feel or not to feel emotions? That our behavior can be controlled is plausible, but to control our emotions?
There is a very important theological and philosophical principle here. We subscribe to the belief that, if G-d commanded it, it must be possible to observe. The Creator understands human nature — He created us with all our strengths and weaknesses, our fortes and foibles. He knows us better than we know ourselves. If He tells us to do it, then He must know that we can do it. Otherwise, why would He waste our time and His?
No one is born a saint or a sinner. We have freedom of choice and we must decide which inner voice we will heed. We really can go either way.
Faith needs nurturing. When we fulfill a mitzvah, we are feeding our faith; it gets stronger as we go along. The faith is there, but it may be dormant. We just need to uncover it.
My friend and colleague Rabbi Dovid Hazdan of Johannesburg tells the story of how, when Dr. Mosie Suzman died in 1994, Rabbi Hazdan came to the family home to conduct the shiva prayers. Dr. Mosie was a respected teacher, researcher and professor of medicine. His wife was the world-famous South African parliamentarian and anti-apartheid activist Helen Suzman.
As Rabbi Hazdan walked through the front door, Helen told him: “I just want you to know, rabbi, that I don’t believe in G-d.”
The rabbi responded, “That’s OK, Helen. I don’t believe in atheists.”
Indeed, we do not. Every one of us has a neshama, a soul that is a part of G-d above. He gave it to us and it vivifies us. If we’re not in touch with it, it may be because we weren’t brought up that way, but it is there and very much accessible.
As it is with faith, the First Commandment, so is it with not coveting what others may have, which is the final commandment. Most of us have much more than our grandparents ever dreamed of having. When we see someone with more than we have, do we covet out of need or greed?
Like faith, the Tenth Commandment is doable. We must be aware of our own inner struggles and realize that we always have the power to choose correctly. We really do. Please G-d, we will.