Rav Yisrael Shachor, Former Torah Mitzion Rosh Kollel, Chicago Kollel,
The last of the Aseret HaDibrot (Ten Commandments) is well known – “You shall not covet”. However, not as well known is when does it actually apply.
One who sees a new acquisition of his friend, finds it most appealing, immediately inquires where it was purchased, and runs to the store to buy one has not violated this prohibition! (Perhaps such behavior is undesirable and needs to be critiqued in the context of self-perfection and virtuousness.) On the other hand, many people are likely to be caught in this interdiction because of a basic lack of knowledge.
A person takes interest in the automobile of his friend and decides that this is exactly the right car for him. He then asks his friend if he intends to sell the car in the near future. If the answer is affirmative – indeed his friend wants to sell and he makes him an offer on the spot, there has been no violation. However, if the response is negative, and he decides to make him another offer each week until he agrees to sell him the vehicle or to engage a common friend that will convince him to sell, he has violated the commandment of not coveting.
The Rambam (Laws of Stealing, Chapter 1) emphasizes that there are two different concepts. The first one is – “You shall not desire” (as it appears in the Aseret HaDibrot in Parshat V´Etchanan). If one thinks in his heart how can he acquire the object of his friend, he has transgressed the prohibition. If he continued his efforts in any manner for example: inquiry, asking a friend to intercede, etc., he has violated the prohibition of . (One should point out that if the attempt failed, and he did not succeed in acquiring the object of his friend, he did not technically violate the prohibition. Only if the property is acquired by him has he violated this interdiction. In any case, he certainly has violated the Issur of not desiring that which belongs to another.
Another example would be when we see an unknown object in the possession of one of our children – even something as insignificant as a pencil or eraser. We have the responsibility to find out from where they got it. If they received the item as a gift . We still need to clarify why it was given to them. Many times the answer will be, “My friend had this pencil and I liked it, so I asked him to give it to me as a present!”
This is definitely a violation of both Not Desiring and Not Coveting! Certainly we, as parents, have the responsibility to educate our children and to explain to them the severity of their actions. Do we have an obligation to instruct the child to return the “gift”? According to the opinion of the Ra´avad (in his gloss on the Rambam) one is required to return the item and it is considered otherwise as an act of stealing! According to the Rambam it appears that no such obligation exists.
The Midras says: If we will observe our obligation of G-d will observe his promise no one will be envious of your land (Exodus 34:24) [“Torah Shlema”].