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Parashat Yitro: Discontentment is Hereditary

The Ten Commandments, which we read in Parashat Yitro, were written on two stone tablets – the first five on one tablet, and the last five on the other. The Midrash comments that this arrangement points to a correspondence between each parallel pair of commandments. That is to say, each commandment relates in some way to the corresponding commandment on the other tablet. Thus, the first commandment is related to the sixth commandment – the first on the second tablet – and the second commandment connects to the seventh, and so on.

According to this system, the fifth commandment, the obligation to honor parents, is associated with the tenth commandment – "Lo Tahmod" ("You shall not covet"). While at first glance these two commands have little, if anything, to do with one another, the Midrash demonstrates their connection from a tragic story told in the Book of Melachim I (21). The wicked King Ahab desired the beautiful vineyard situated next to his palace that was owned by a man named Nabot. The king approached Nabot and offered to give him a more beautiful vineyard in exchange for his, but Nabot refused, noting that his vineyard was family property which he inherited from his father, and he could not part with it. Ahab’s wife, Izebel, conspired together with Ahab to have Nabot accused of blasphemy and executed, whereupon Ahab took his field. This unfortunate incident, the Midrash observes, proves the link between honoring parents and coveting. Ahab coveted the property of Nabot, who remained steadfastly loyal to his parents, refusing to relinquish the family estate.

The question, however, remains, how exactly are these commands linked? What connection is there between the prohibition of "Lo Tahmod" and the requirement to honor parents?

The story is told of a woman who approached her Rabbi and asked if he had any ideas to help her. She said that her son constantly complained that he does not like his parents, and wished he was raised by different parents in a different family. How, she asked, could she do things differently so her son would stop wishing to be in a different family?

The Rabbi asked the woman if he could join her family for a Shabbat meal, and she happily agreed. After Shabbat, she returned to his office to hear his impressions.

"I think I understand what’s going on," the Rabbi said. "At your Shabbat table, I heard you and your husband talk about one community member’s new luxury car, the fancy vacation taken by another family, and how somebody else down the street is renovating and expanding their home. It was clear that you were jealous. Children follow their parents’ example. Just as you feel discontented and wish you had what others have, so does your son. Of course, he does not yet own anything, and all he has is his family. So, just as you envy your neighbor’s car, he envies his friends’ parents and families."

It has been suggested that this is the meaning of the connection between "Lo Tahmod" and honoring parents. Discontentment is hereditary. If our children sense that we are dissatisfied with what we have, they will follow our lead and feel dissatisfied with what they have – meaning, with us, their parents. If we want our children to accept us and respect our authority, then we need to set for them an example of contentment and satisfaction. The more we express our gratitude for what we have in life, without looking around and feeling jealous of others, the more our children we feel content and not be envious of their peers.

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