Covet: “yearn to possess”, origin “greed for money or possessions”

I went to my first Shabbat a few weeks ago. Part of Shabbat dinner is discussing that week’s lesson from the Torah. Thankfully, twelve years of Catholic education meant I at least knew what they were talking about and felt fairly comfortable discussing what is for me the Old Testament.

That week’s discussion was on the tenth commandment, “Thou shalt not covet.” According to the Rabbi, the definition of covet is to want something someone else has with the desire to somehow get it (even if you don’t act on that desire). Coveting does not mean wanting something like what the other person has (i.e. going to Anthropologie to get the same dress as your friend), it means wanting to take the actual thing from the person (i.e. take your friend’s dress from her).

Ever since that dinner, I’ve thought a lot about coveting, comparison, and jealousy. When you compare yourself to someone else with that strong desire to have what they have – the body, business, boyfriend, or big house – and think you’re somehow less than because you don’t have it – is that coveting? Yes, if you kind of want to take it from them, to have exactly what they have and not your own version of it.

But here’s the interesting thing the Rabbi brought up at Shabbat: You have to want the whole package. You can’t simply want someone’s house, you have to want their job, their mortgage, their family, their entire life history. Because you can’t cherry pick parts of people’s lives and leave the rest. To get what you covet – or comparing yourself to – you have to want the entire person’s life. (tweet it)

Given the option, most of us would pick our own, familiar life to that of a stranger’s.

With completely distorted celebrity media and the self-editing of social media, it’s easy to look at someone and think they have it all, that their life is perfect. Yet deep down, we all know that isn’t the case. We see it in ourselves, in those closest to us, and the occasional unexpected celebrity train wreck – the messy apartment, the fights, the “secret” behaviors that keep us stuck. But with the perfect images we see, it’s hard to remember that.

I think jealousy is normal. While the definition of jealousy is “resentment because of another’s success or advantage,” the word originates from zeal and emulation, and had a positive connotation. Jealousy is part of the human condition. We continually want to evolve – and to do that we have to desire something more than what we have. Jealousy points you towards something you want in your life and don’t have yet. The trick is to get it for yourself in a way that is completely unique to you.

And that is how jealousy is different from coveting, even though they appear easily interchangeable. To covet is to want to take something from someone by having exactly what they have; in jealousy you recognize your own desire and set out to achieve on your own terms.

It’s easy to look at someone and want what they have. But do you really want their whole life? Instead of coveting or comparing, be jealous. Use your emotion to reveal what you truly want and go after it in your own way.

What do you think of the difference between coveting and jealousy? How can you stop comparing and instead be jealous – having zeal and enthusiasm for something you want? Discuss in the comments.

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