Saturday, February 20, 2010

Where to draw the line

Maybe it was because I hadn’t been to Shabbat services in a while for a variety of reasons including several feet of snow.  Maybe it was because my soul needed to be recharged.  Whatever the reason, today’s service made me realize how lucky I am to have found my religious community at Temple Micah.

Our rabbi Danny began the service with a quote from Rabbi Nachman of Breslov about prayer.  It was something to the effect that prayer simply made up of words is a waste of time.   It’s only when the feelings of one’s heart accompany those words that they can rise up to God.  He very much supported spontaneous prayer, but the heart component seemed essential.

The real meat of the service was a discussion of the commandment “Thou shalt not covet.”  The question Danny posed was whether this commandment referred to covetous thoughts as well as actions that resulted from such thoughts.  In other words, is it OK to want something if you don’t ever try to take it?

Various learned rabbis have had a field day with this question over the years, taking quite opposing positions.  The scrupulous person would say that even having such thoughts breaks the commandment.  Whereas the practical person would admit that human nature makes us want things we can’t necessarily have. 

I fall into the practical group.  I somewhat liken this to the situation I often find myself in meditation, where thoughts continue to come into my mind as I attempt to sit.  Finding it unrealistic to think that we can make our minds go blank, I simply try to acknowledge those thoughts and let them go.  So too with things I covet that belong to someone else, I don’t feel I have done anything wrong if I simply recognize my feelings and then dismiss them.

It was a lively discussion among the congregation.  One person offered the legalistic view that you have to actually do something to be charged with a crime.  Some one else postured that if you had covetous thoughts and didn’t act on them outright, you still might change your behavior in a negative way toward the person who had what you wanted.  Most people agreed it was humanly impossible not to ever want what someone else had.

As I emerged after services into the bright sunshine, I clearly heard the bells of the National Cathedral just down the street ringing loud and clear.  Although it was not their Sabbath, it served as a reminder of the greater community in which we find ourselves.  I wondered just how Christianity would interpret that commandment.


Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

Great post, great thoughts and yes, great temple. Thanks for this.

3:28 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I grew up believing the commandment applied to thought as well as action but I doubt I'm a typical Christian. I doubt I'm a typical anything. :)

Although one cannot control what he or she subconsciously wants, one can recognize that desire and work to set it aside just as you've said that you do.

That's what I try to do, with middling success. Recognize the desire, deconstruct it, put it aside. Sometimes the putting aside includes getting for myself what I want but not by taking. Isn't that the basis of commercialism?

6:48 PM  
Blogger Cyndy said...

I try not to want stuff. And the less money I have the easier it is to be that way! But since I live with someone who is totally the opposite, I often end up with more than I need, and even stuff I wish I didn't have. I guess it balances out.

It's interesting how many different ways this moral guideline or commandment can be interpreted, and why. There are all kinds of things that can be coveted - the long version of that commandment is just the starting point.

I sometimes think coveting is a lot ickier than lying or stealing, especially when other people are involved.

7:11 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Reya -- TM never fails to make me think.

Kristin -- I learned those commandments by heart at an early age, but I now realize some are a little more difficult to keep when I really think about how to interpret the words.

Cyndy -- I believe some people are addicted to coveting and stop at nothing to get what they want. "Icky" is a good way to describe it.

9:23 PM  
Blogger Pauline said...

Coveting has a negative connotation in Christianity too, described as "blameworthy longing for that which belongs to another." As a good little Catholic girl I was given to believe that just to think of getting away with a sin was to commit it. Hell is not paved with good intentions - it's paved with fallen Catholics!

10:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a thoughtful and thought-provoking post! I'm thinking about desires and when/how we act on them a lot these days...Instead of pondering the desiring of things, I started thinking about people's covetousness around experiences (travel, stimulation, sex, stable relationship), state of being (enlightenment, ease of mind and heart, oblivion, death), other people (unrequited love, fantasies), etc.

As one who tends towards the obsessive, I try to be aware of my desires and then pause -- why do I want this? Is this something I can get from within myself? Am I looking to avoid something else? -- and hopefully then refrain from doing something totally stupid, wasteful, or unethical. We all have desires; the question is, what do we do with them, and in what way does our acting on them benefit or harm ourselves and others....Easy for me to say! That's all on a good day!! Thanks for inviting me to think about this today.


1:04 PM  

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