I’m an avid podcast listener from Australia, love hearing your perspectives and also Ms. Lapin’s balancing views!
I’ve got much of your material and I’ve heard you say on the podcast several times about Hate Crime that a law based on the intent of the person is very flawed—it should be the person’s actions that are evaluated, not their presumed intentions.
Why is it then that the 10th commandment is about coveting your neighbour’s stuff – isn’t that about intentions rather than actions? After all the preceding commandments cover the actions – stealing, adultery etc. that could flow from coveting.
I have listened to your 10 Commandments CD set and loved them – really appreciate your insights and teachings,
We’re delighted that together with many, many other listeners you are listening from Oz. We have not visited there yet, but would love to do so. Two of our children worked there one summer (your winter). They loved the people they met and enjoyed an amazing time.
Your question is one that we have been asked numerous times at personal appearances and speeches, so thank you for giving us this opportunity to get the answer down in writing.
One important difference between hate crime legislation and Exodus 20:14 is that this nefarious legislation allows a corrupt government to prosecute “friends” and specially favored groups lightly, while reserving aggressive prosecution for “enemies”. This program of different punishments for different people who have committed the same crime is done by assigning a hate motive to some. Meanwhile, Exodus 20:14 allows for no human inflicted punishment since only God knows whether we covet in our hearts.
We want to make two more points critiquing the hate crime category: The first is that unlike God, we humans are not all-knowing. It is difficult enough to build an honest and principled judicial system that citizens trust to establish whether or not an accused individual did commit the action. It is impossible to set up an honest and principled judicial system that will read people’s minds and tell us what the accused was thinking.
To preserve safety, a just society must punish someone who physically attacks another person (with limited exceptions for self-defense, etc.). Once we increase or diminish the severity of that punishment depending on the victim’s age, sex, race, preferred language or any other label, we open up a Pandora’s box of opportunity for government overreach, corruption and politically correct vindictiveness. An equitable legal system cannot claim to probe deep into a criminal’s mind—most of us don’t even know what is in our own mind, let alone someone else’s.
It goes without saying that there is a vast judicial distinction between someone who intended to murder then did so and someone else who committed accidental homicide. This is the limit to how far we go in delving into a person’s mind.
Our next point stems from ancient Jewish wisdom. As you heard in our Ten Commandments audio program, the phrase ‘ten commandments’ is not only inaccurate but within the Torah they are much more frequently referred to as the “Two Tablets.” This emphasizes that they are actually five principles, each with two applications.
Number ten is the match to number five. What does honoring parents have to do with not coveting? Who among us has not, particularly when young, been convinced that our friends’ parents or some mythical set of parents would understand us better and offer us a better life than our own do? One of the first steps toward spiritual maturity is acknowledging that each of our life circumstances, including the family into which we were born, was chosen for us by God to equip and challenge us on a meaningful life journey.
You have probably already made the leap to, “Do not covet…” Even if we never say one unsuitable word to our neighbor’s wife and if we treat our neighbor’s property with care and respect, if we spend time wishing that we owned what someone else has, we are not accepting that God gives each of us exactly the circumstances and the challenges that we need in order to grow. Someone else’s wife is not meant for us. Dreaming that she is makes us dissatisfied with our own blessings and ungrateful for what God has given us.
No one—other than God—can ever know what we begrudge our neighbor. Yet our lives will be immeasurably improved if we focus on what we have rather than beam out jealousy and resentment for what belongs to others.
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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