Los Angeles Jewish Home's Blog

On Shavuot

On Tuesday evening, we start the Jewish festival of Shavuot, originally a harvest festival but now most notably z’man matan torateinu, the season of the giving of our Torah. Traditionally seen as divinely given, Torah offers a way of life for a just and spiritual society. In synagogues throughout the world on Wednesday, people stand to listen in awe to the telling of that dramatic event at Mount Sinai, when the Jewish People stood at the foot of the mountain to receive G-d’s word, in the form of the Ten Commandments – major spiritual and ethical teachings, from worshipping the one G-d, to keeping Shabbat, honoring one’s parents, and a series of don’ts like not killing and not committing adultery.

But one commandment, the final one, always seems to me to be different from the others. It is not about worship, and it is not about what we do to others. It is about what goes on in the secrecy of our thoughts and our longings: we are told not to look over our garden fence and covet our neighbor’s house or wife or anything of his.

I have come to think of this odd commandment as an absolute necessity for a happy and fulfilled life. It is about wanting what is not mine. Many people have a tendency to see other people as having great advantages, whether financially, or in brain power, or in the beauty or seeming happiness of their family. This tendency leads to what can sometimes be the two most pernicious words in the English language – “if only”! If only I had a Mercedes like his! If only my wife/husband were elegant like that.

When we long for what is not ours, we are impoverished. A famous teaching in the Ethics of the Fathers goes like this: Who is a rich person? The person who is happy with his/her lot in life. This does not mean that we should not try to improve our lives. Of course it is good to strive for excellence in our various endeavors. Of course it is proper to work to better our financial situation or to do all we can to improve our health.

But I think there is a difference between trying to improve our lives, and the moping “if only” that is based on comparison to others. The problem may lie not only in jealousy of others, but in longing for what I myself once had. Let me explain: here at the Jewish Home, the residents who successfully build new lives are those that can say: This is my life, I will make the best of it. In contrast, those whose energy goes into longing for what was, when they were independent and ran their own homes, can never quite reach the place of finding life a blessing, thanking G-d for it, and finding new friends and new activities.

That tenth Commandment can be a reminder to us all that this is our life to lead in the fullest way we can – and a reminder of the wonderful wisdom of Torah!

Chag Shavuot Sameach – Happy Shavuot.

Rabbi Anthony Elman Rabbi Anthony Elman serves as Rabbi of the Jewish Home's Grancell Village Campus. His professional background is multifaceted, encompassing the fields of law, social work, and psychotherapy. Rabbi Elman has been with the Home since his ordination and graduation from the Academy for Jewish Religion-California in May 2007

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