Laws Pertaining to Coveting
Weekly Halacha Series
By HaRav Shimon Anshin shlit”a
The 10th commandment is: “Do not covet” and even though everyone knows this warning, many are not aware of the practical applications of this prohibition.
In practice there are two prohibitions as it relates to this commandment. One is “Do not desire” (“lo tisaveh” – Parashas Va’etchanan) and the second is “Do not covet” (“Lo Tachmod”) as is seen in this week’s Parasha which warns about the actual deed of coveting vs. that of desiring.
A. “Do Not Desire:”
According to the Rambam, Shulchan Aruch and most of the Poskim, this is the warning against “thoughts of the heart” alone. i.e. everything that is definitively decided in the heart of an individual to pursue another person’s belongings even were it to be in a “permissible” way such as purchasing the item from the individual – this in fact contravenes the prohibition of “Do not desire” and applies even if he had NOT purchased it yet!
However, there are those that say that this applies only if he pursues the belonging with all his effort. Which would not be the case if his intent is to abandon the pursuit should his friend disagree to sell it to him.
Others hold that only if he actually does something to try and acquire the other’s belonging, would he be contravening this prohibition.
There are a minority of Poskim that hold that even if the person so much as desires the item in his heart and has not premeditatedly planned a way to acquire the belonging, he would be contravening this prohibition.
In all opinions however, it is a worthy trait (midas chassidus) not to desire in any way, even in one’s heart, what belongs to another.
B. “Do Not Covet”:
This is applicable only when the following two conditions are met:
1) “Begging” and “pushing” another until he sells the item to him.
2) Taking possession of the “begged” item described in 1) above.
Definitions of “Begging”
1) Asking for an item not in a way of “begging”, would not contravene this prohibition. Therefore, it is permissible to ask an individual if he would be willing to sell him the item he wants, even twice, and this would not considered “begging”. However three times, would appear to be considered “begging”. An important person however, knowing that the owner of a particular item would be embarrassed to decline the offer, would not be permitted to ask even once.
2) Therefore, even were one to pay the full price after he “begged” beyond the permissible amount of times described above, according to the Rambam, Shulchan Aruch and most Poskim, he would be contravening the prohibition of “Do not covet”.
3) If the owner agreed to sell the item because the buyer gave him much more than the going rate, his would still be contravening the this prohibition.
4) If after “begging” the owner truly agrees to sell the item (as in “I really want to sell the item”), there are those that say that the buyer has not contravened the prohibition of coveting, however, there are other Poskim that hold to the contrary.
What items are prohibited to Covet?
1) Coveting a specific item that belongs to another person. However, if he desires to have something similar to another, then he would not be contravening the prohibition. Also, there would be no prohibition should he desire such an item in a non-jealous way but rather in a way that he finds such an item desirable/useful.
2) With regards to coveting an item that is readily available. There are those that say there is no prohibition of coveting.
3) With regards to coveting possessions belonging to partners such as a shared garden, courtyard or roof, one should ask a Posek (Shaalat Chachom).
4) Coveting a Mitzvah item, such as a Sefer Torah, Mezuzah, Shofar, Lulav etc, contravenes the prohibition of coveting.
5) Coveting Torah knowledge or professional skill sets, such as desiring to learn Torah or a particular trade from another, does not contravene the prohibition and one would even be allowed to “beg” the other person to teach him that knowledge/skill.
6) Chesed – “begging” another to do a Chesed is permissible as the one doing the Chesed is performing a mitzvah.
7) Presents -“begging” another to give a present to him contravenes the prohibition of coveting.
8) Renting – “begging” another to rent him his house, for example, is disagreed upon among the Poskim as to whether this would be contravening the prohibition of coveting or not. In practice one would need to ask a Posek.
As this is a translation of the original Hebrew, if you are unclear on any of the Laws outlined herein in any way whatsoever, please consult with a Posek.