"It is a day of sabbath rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance." Leviticus 16:31
Note to our readers: Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, is observed today. As this is a non-working holiday, these devotions were prepared for you in advance.
An interesting study was conducted where a sampling of people was asked the following question: Assuming the cost of living remained the same in both scenarios, which would you prefer To earn $100,000 while everyone else around you made $50,000, or to earn $200,000 while those around you made $400,000?
Which would you choose?
Rationally, it makes more sense to choose the latter option so that you would be earning twice as much as in the first option. However, the study found that a majority of people chose the first option, opting to earn less just so that they could have more than others. The study's findings indicate that envy is a major problem in our society. The multi-billion-dollar advertising industry has turned the 10th commandment, "You shall not covet," into the opposite governing principle of "you must covet," and that idea has enveloped us.
Thank God for Yom Kippur.
The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are known as the Ten Days of Repentance, and they correlate with the Ten Commandments. Each day allows us to work on one of the commandments. So, for example, on the two days of Rosh Hashanah, we focus on the idea that there is only one God (first commandment) and that we will worship no other gods (second commandment). Yom Kippur correlates with the 10th commandment, "You shall not covet."
The Jewish sages teach that the commandments are listed in order of the easiest to the most difficult to obey. The commandment to not covet what others have demands that we control not just our actions but also our feelings and desires. However, while it may not be easy, learning not to want what others have is the secret to a happy life.
On Yom Kippur we are commanded "to deny yourselves . . ." On that day, Jews around the world put physical pleasures aside and focus on what will truly make us happy: a spiritual and meaningful life. We choose prayer over food. We choose to commune with God rather than engage in drinking. We don't wear luxurious leather shoes, as a sign of all people being equal. We leave our fancy jewels at home. We return to the idea that wanting what others have is not only a sin, but also a recipe for an unhappy, unfulfilling life. There is no end to wanting; it's a bottomless pit we can never fill.
Today, let's think about what we have and what we need to fulfill our personal purpose in life. Let's resolve to stay focused on our own life and stop looking at what other people have. Let's remember that true joy is to be found in God, so let's recommit to making Him the focus of our lives.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President