The Rambam (Gezeilah Ve-Aveidah Chap. 1) and the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 359:9) stress that the two prohibitions – Lo Tachmod and Lo Tis’aveh – are indeed two distinct prohibitions. In defining the two prohibitions, and explaining the difference between them, we will begin with Lo Tis’aveh, which is perhaps the simpler of the two.
The Rambam writes: “Anybody who desires his fellow’s house or wife, or anything else that can be purchased for money (and the owner does not want to sell) – once he considers how he will buy the item, and his heart is sealed on the matter, he transgresses a negative prohibition, as it says: “You shall not desire” – there is no desire other than in the heart.”
It is clear from the Rambam that the prohibition of Lo Tis’aveh is transgressed in thought alone, even without any accompanying deed. However, a mere thought of jealousy is not sufficient. The thought must include a practical plan to procure the desired object. The prohibition is transgressed when a person has a plan for “how I will purchase this thing (in spite of the fact that the owner does not wish to sell).”
The Aruch Ha-Shulchan (359:8) adds that the transgression is contingent on a concrete decision to set the plan into motion. The existence of a plan is not sufficient. In order to transgress a person must decide to actually execute it. He adds, however, that it is certainly correct to avoid all such thoughts.
The Rambam writes (Gezeilah 1:9): “Anyone who covets a servant, a maidservant, a house or utensils that belong to a colleague, or any other article that he can purchase from him, and pressures him with friends and requests until he agrees to sell it to him, violates a negative commandment, even though he pays much money for it, as it states: ‘Do not covet.’ […] One does not violate this commandment until one actually takes possession of the article he covets, as reflected in the verse, `Do not covet the gold and silver on these statues and take it for yourself.’ Implied here is that the word tachmod refers to coveting accompanied by a deed.”
In contrast to the law of Lo Tis’aveh, it is thus clear that the prohibition of Lo Tachmod is only transgressed after a person succeeds in acquiring the item he covets from its owner.
Also clear from the Rambam is the fact that the prohibition applies even where the buyer paid for the item. However, this matter involves a dispute among early authorities.
The Gemara states: “People believe that the prohibition of Lo Tachmod only applies without payment,” and authorities differ over whether this belief is anchored in true halachah, or whether it is a false belief and the prohibition really applies even if the buyer pays for his purchase.
According to one explanation given by the Tosafos (Bava Metzia 5), the prohibition applies only where the item is not paid for: That which people say (the prohibition of Lo Tachmod only applies without payment) is the truth!
However, another explanation offered by Tosafos (Sanhedrin 25b) is that in truth the prohibition applies even when payment is made and the sale is valid– as the Rambam rules.
The Raabad offers a third opinion. He rules that the prohibition is transgressed only where paynent is made but the sale is void; if the sale is valid, no prohibition is transgressed (based on the Magid Mishnah’s explanation). According to the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch, however, even with a valid sale (consensual or non-consensual) the buyer transgresses the prohibition.
Pressuring the Owner to Sell or Give
The above-mentioned passage in the Rambam stresses that the prohibition of Lo Tachmod is contingent on the person “pressur[ing] him with friends and requests until he agrees to sell it to him.” In Shut Betzel Ha-Chochmah (Rabbi Betzalel Stern, Vol. 3, no. 43) the author writes that this pressure involves requesting the item at least three times, proving (from Sema 228:8) that any fewer is not considered pressuring.
The actual halachic ruling, however, depends on the person and his relationship with the owner. For some people, as Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaarei Teshuvah 3:43) points out, even a simple question will be considered an application of pressure – this can be true of a rabbi, a boss, or somebody in a position of authority (if he is aware that the owner does not wish to part with this possession). For ordinary people however, there is no prohibition in merely asking if the owner is willing to sell the item.
Rabbeinu Yonah mentions that the prohibition applies to one who presses the owner to sell, as well as to one who presses the owner to give the item as a gift. Based on this ruling, the Chafetz Chaim (end of Shemiras Ha-Lashon) writes that a chasan (groom) must be careful not to pressure his future father-in-law to give him gifts beyond those that were agreed in the tena’im, for this involves a transgression of Lo Tachmod.
However, we will explain below that the prohibition of Lo Tachmod is limited (according to many authorities) to the demand for a specific item belonging to the object of jealousy, so that the prohibition will only be transgressed if the chasan demands a specific item that belongs to his father-in-law.
Were it not for this qualification, every child who insists his parents buy him something would thereby transgress the prohibition of Lo Tachmod!
I Want to be just as Rich!
Does the prohibition of Lo Tachmod apply to somebody who simply wants to be as rich as his neighbor or wants a car like his neighbor’s – or is the prohibition limited to the coveting of a specific item, such as a person who wants his neighbor’s car?
The sefer Derech Pikudecha (of the Benei Yissachar, 38:2) writes: “Even if a person covets riches as those of his fellow, and does not covet a specific item belonging to his fellow, he transgresses the prohibition of Lo Tachmod.” This is possibly also the opinion of the Malbim (Shemos 20:13), who mentions somebody who “covets the wealth of his fellow.”
However, in Shut Betzel Ha-Chochma the author proves from the simple reading of many rishonim and poskim that the prohibition is only transgressed if a person covets a specific item belonging to his fellow. Rabbi Avraham ben Ha-Rambam writes this explicitly, stating that the prohibition applies to “a particular item in the possession of another, and not to something similar to the item.” The Orach Meisharim (13) adds that one cannot expect somebody who sees somebody’s [attractive] food and drink not to crave it, and no prohibition applies, provided the craving is directed to “general ice cream” and not to that person’s specific ice cream.
A similar ruling is given by Shut Divrei Yatziv (Choshen Mishpat 65), who writes: “When a person wants to be as rich as somebody else, no prohibition is involved.”
An Item that is Easily Found
Beyond the rulings mentioned above, we find in the responsa Eretz Zvi (4, citing the Imrei Emes) that the prohibition of Lo Tachmod does not apply to something that can be purchased with relative ease on the market.
The halachah is cited without any accompanying explanation, but it appears that because the item can be found on the market, the coveting does not relate to the specific item belonging to another person, but to the idea of the item in general – not Yaakov’s Ferrari, but a Ferrari in general.
Nonetheless, this ruling involves a significant chiddush, and other authorities do not mention the qualification. The ruling is noted by Shut Betzel Ha-Chochmah, who adds, “I have not been able to fathom his intention.”
Lo Tachmod for Organ Transplantations
Rabbi Yisrael Yaakov Fischer (Shut Even Yisrael 8:105) was asked whether a person is obligated to donate a kidney to his brother or sister, in particular where his parents are pressing him to do so. As part of his response he discusses the matter of whether pressing a son to do so might involve the prohibition of Lo Tachmod.
Rabbi Fischer writes: “The prohibition is certainly limited to something that one can see and covet, and does not apply to something that one cannot see.” He also writes: “The prohibition only applies to something that a person covets for himself, and not to something that somebody covets for somebody else.”
Both of these halachic rulings are significant and original.
Concerning the question of organ transplants, however, it can be suggested that the prohibition of Lo Tachmod cannot apply, because the transgression is limited to actual possessions (the verse refers to “your fellow’s house … and all that belongs to your fellow”), and certainly does not apply to the performance of some action or other (such as playing the piano).
If we assume that a person’s organs are not possessions (a subject which requires its own article), it follows that performing a transplant cannot be compared to a sale or a gift. It is, rather, a physical action, so that the prohibition will not apply.
In conclusion, it is important to note that even where the formal prohibitions of Lo Tachmod and Lo Tis’aveh do not apply, jealousy is a very negative trait, to the degree that it “takes a person out of the world” (Avos Chap. 4). If we appreciate that each person gets his deserved lot, and that as we are all brothers there is no room for jealousy of one another, our lot will surely be blessed.
In the merit of fulfilling the imperative of Lo Tachmod, may we merit the promise of the Sages: “If you observe the instruction ‘you shall not covet your fellow’s house,’ you will see the fulfillment of the prophecy ‘none shall covet your land.'”