Chamadah vs. Ta’avah by Jonathan Karp


In Parashat Yitro, the Aseret HaDibrot, the Ten Commandments, are mentioned for the first time. The last of the commandments, “Lo Tachmod” or jealousy, troubles many commentators, as they ask how Hashem can command us to control and restrict our thoughts.

     The Mechilta explains that there is a difference between Chamadah, coveting, and Ta’avah, desiring (The words “Lo Titaveh” are used only in the second appearance of the commandments in Sefer Devarim). He explains that desiring is just in the mind and heart, but coveting can actually lead to stealing. The Mechiltah says that the words, “VeChamadu Sadot VeGazlu,” “They will covet the fields and steal” (Micah 2:2), prove that coveting leads to stealing.

The Rambam (Hilchot Gezeilah Va’Aveidah 1:9-13) follows the Mechilta that Ta’avah and Chamadah are different. He states that Ta’avah is when one wants an object that belongs to someone else, and Chamadah is when one takes practical steps to misappropriate it. He crystallizes the difference by stating that if one desires an object that he sees in his friend’s house and plans how to appropriate it, he violates Lo Titaveh. If his jealousy leads to him urging his friend to sell it against his will, he violates Lo Tachmod.

On the other hand, some commentators disagree with the distinction between Chamadah and Ta’avah. The Sefer Mitzvot Gadol asserts that both prohibitions must be the same because when the Ten Commandments are listed in Devarim, the Torah states that you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, suggesting that these two sins are on equal footing. If this Pasuk is interpreted according to the Rambam’s position, that Chamadah is worse than Ta’avah, it would suggest that the Torah regards desiring your neighbor’s house as a more serious violation than coveting your neighbor’s wife. However, because the two are grouped together, it is logical to contend that the prohibitions are of equal status. Therefore, Ta’avah and Chamadah must be synonyms.

The Malbim offers a different explanation of the difference between Chamadah and Ta’avah. He says that on the one hand, Chamadah is when one desires something that he can presently see before his eyes. Ta’avah, on the other hand, is when one has a longing for something that may not be in front of him. The Torah uses the language of Chamadah for one’s neighbor’s wife because one can only covet her once he sees her with his eyes. However, one can desire his neighbor’s property without seeing it, and as such, the Torah uses the language of Ta’avah.

Still, a problem with this explanation exists because it leaves our original question of how we can be commanded not to do something with our thoughts unanswered. Ibn Ezra explains that a thinking person knows in his heart that it is not reasonable to covet another person’s possessions because Hashem forbids his neighbor’s possessions, and therefore, he knows it is impossible for him to acquire them. He uses this reasoning to control his thoughts. In this way, it is possible for us to explain the commandment of Lo Tachmod.

Hopefully, with the help of Hashem, we will not violate “Lo Tachmod” and “Lo Titaveh” but rather will be satisfied with our possessions and Semeichim BeChelkeinu. 

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