The Least Pleasurable Sin

This is the first in a Sisterhood series on women, apologizing and Yom Kippur.

Forget your bat mitzvah, learning to drive and losing your virginity: College graduation is the one moment that truly signifies your entrance into the “real world.” Now you’re actually a grown-up, and it’s going to be a bumpy ride. At least, this is the impression I’ve received from every college commencement address I’ve ever watched. They usually involve some sort of discussion of the existential crisis of what to do with one’s life, plus some mildly witty cracks about struggling to pay rent and learning to cook. Yet, as consistently as certain themes and jokes are rehashed in these speeches, there’s one thing no one warns you about when it comes to your entrance into adulthood: coveting.

Since I graduated from college last year, my most striking post-collegiate realization was not that I should have taken an econ class or that it’s no longer socially acceptable to store vodka under my bed. Rather, it is that I have a frighteningly strong capacity for jealousy, competition and envy.

Ironically, being surrounded by 1,600 of my peers did not bring out my green-eyed monster. College provided a clear way to measure my progression; grades in classes, leadership positions in clubs and invitations to parties on the weekend were all the validation I needed to assure myself that I was doing the right things. And as long as I was happy, I (mostly) didn’t look to others.

When you leave college, the measures of success and validation are not only nebulous (especially if, like me, you graduate with no idea of what you want to do), but it becomes pretty clear that some — maybe many — of your peers have jumped WAY ahead of you. They have better jobs (or in my case, they just have jobs). They have apartments, some of which are shockingly spacious. They nab the article for the publication you’ve adored since high school. They find the perfect significant other to bring to alumni events.

My head was suddenly filled with all of the markers of success that I lacked. Unfortunately, this craving didn’t motivate me; instead, it filled my blood with an exhausting jealousy. Out of my own professional and personal uncertainty grew an envy towards those enjoying the very jobs, homes and relationships I desired. I felt a bitter resentment that I had never experienced. I was consumed with doubt, wondering what they had done right and how they had earned fortune’s favor and I hadn’t.

That is why coveting is the least fun, satisfying and glamorous of all sins. Gossip is great. Gluttony is delicious. I’m not exactly sure what a “gathering of lewdness” entails, but it certainly sounds like a party to me. All of these activities produce a sense of pleasure, albeit temporary, that scratches some profligate itch. Coveting is the chopped liver of moral transgressions because you don’t really choose it, and it only makes you feel worse.

During past Yom Kippurs, as I’ve rattled off my transgressions during the Al Chet prayer, I’ve wondered how to atone for something like coveting. It’s an act that you not only can’t control, but also does not hurt anybody. Or so I thought.

After a year of coveting, I realize that I am the one who ends up bearing the damage. Learning to be happy for someone else’s successes may be one of the harder steps I take towards maturity, but I certainly don’t like the person I’ve become when I covet. It seems like the gateway drug to harder sins like cheating, stealing and deceit.

Who do I say sorry to this Yom Kippur? I think it would be both incredibly cheesy and a nauseatingly self-indulgent cop-out to “forgive myself.” But I do think there’s a need to atone. I think I need to say sorry to God because in coveting I have ignored all of the blessings with which He has filled my life. The danger of coveting is that you lose sight of who you are, all that you have, and even all that you truly want. I don’t know what this next year will bring, if I will achieve success or if I will continue to covet. But if I want to stop or at least contain my coveting, I know I need to start with an apology to God to remind myself that I have so much to be grateful for.

Your Stories

  • "The Rabbis in the Talmud spoke of the necessity of both sinai and oker harim, that is both those who collected traditions that were handed down and also those who literally “overturned mountains.” Essentially, the one group would not survive without the other. It is in the radical interpretations of the given traditions, and in the broad and fluent knowledge of the traditions that one is able to create radical new interpretations."Dr. Aryeh Cohen

  • ""I have never felt that repentence, prayer, and tzedakah would change my fate. Rather, I feel that through honest reflection, refinement, and a sense of responsibility, I do have incredible power to affect the decree for others.""Cantor Ellen Dreskin

  • "Teshuvah does invite us to begin again, but not from the beginning. Part of what it means to be human is to learn how to begin again and again – from right where we are, right in the messy middle of things. The Torah, according to an ancient midrash, reminds us of this truth by opening the story of creation itself with the letter Bet…Even when we have rolled the parchment scroll as far back as it will go, the letter Bet meets us there -- insisting that this story cannot be told from the very beginning. No story can. Beginnings elude us."Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld

  • "This year our theme at Temple Emanuel Beverly Hills is “If not Now, When?” and we asked congregants to tweet their responses to #innwtebh or to fill out cards filling in the blanks :“If not now, when will I….” We will prepare these ‘intentions for the year” in a similar way, as a power point presentation scrolling quietly on the screen facing the congregation as individuals come forward silently in front of the open ark before neilah."Rabbi Laura Geller

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