Nine of the Ten Commandments deal with positive or negative actions. Do this, don't do that. Perhaps the most interesting is the commandment not to covet. Why? Because coveting in an intention, not an action. That intention leads to doing forbidden actions, or failing to do ordered actions.
Positive actions in the Ten Commandments (Aseret ha-Dibrot) are belief in G-d, observance of Sacred times, respect for parents and parent like figures. Negative actions are prohibitions against improper Worship, oaths, including bearing false witness, physically harming others, including not murdering, sexual immorality (including adultery), theft, and harming others by speech acts (bearing false witness, gossip (Lishon ha Rah, the evil tongue). One way or the other, they all address permitted or proscribed actions. It is different with coveting.
To covet is to have intentions to benefit yourself. That intention leads to doing things you should not, or failing to do things you should. See Exodus 20:14 "You should not covet your neighbor's house ---". The Commandment is not to have intentions on what belongs to others. That intention can lead to the commission and omission of acts which can be classified as sin (Chet - that will leads you astray from salvation) and abomination (toe ay vah - that which is salvation neutral, but not fitting well into accepted societal norms). In that sense, coveting can lead you to violate not only the other nine of the Ten Commandments, but as well all six hundred thirteen Divine Commandments (Torah Moshe Meh Sinai), and the fence around the law (Torah Sheh Beh Al Peh) customs and traditions, some of which take on the status of law (Minhag to Din) if universally accepted within the community.
Intention, it looms large in my heritage. In Talmudic Tractate Mesechet Berachot having Coved Rosh (Hebrew for good intention) is a necessary condition for prayer to be effective. Prayer is one and a principal way we communicate with G-d. In Chovoth ha Levavoth (Duties of the Heart) by Rabbi Bachyah ibn Pekudah, having Cavannah Tovah (Aramaic for good intention) as a better guideline for righteous actions than performance of the duties of the limb, as vital as are those on living life most fully and abundantly.
By the intent of coveting, we can refrain from believing in G-d, observing the Shabbath and other Holy times, respecting parents and teachers because that stands in the way of actions which get us what we covet. Similarly, it motivates us to improperly Worship, take oaths and bear false witness, harm others physically, by speech acts and in other ways, commit sexual immorality and other acts of personal and inter-relational betrayal; and steal.
It all boils down to not being held accountable leading to sin and abomination. Bad intent produces evil and undesirable actions.
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz makes an important counter point for American society today. This point is not limited to only the present United States. It is a part of modern life. Coveting is integral to economic progress in today's societies. The American economy is 70% consumer based. It is only by coveting what others have, and working smart and hard to sufficiently earn what is necessary to keep up with the Joneses that the wheels of industry turn. This was not so in pre- and Biblical times.
In ancient Israel every one has the same tract of land as everyone else. There were originally no classes, so no class struggles. Everyone had the same beginning, and the same chance to make of what they had for the benefit of family, community, and self. The basics were all taken care of by this equitable land distribution. Even so. over time there were poor. This could happen from premature spousal death, infirmity, age, some being better at practical skills than others, and good or bad luck. Stealing had more to do with intent (there is that pesky coveting again) than an act of desperation and survival. The poor were allowed to glean from fields if it meant not starving. That wasn't considered stealing. A premeditated act to take possession of anther's wife, children, property, herds, etc. through nefarious means in order to get ahead, that was stealing. In ancient times, the poor were protected. Those who would get ahead at the expense of others were open to the force of Divine Law. Contrast that to today.
If you are laid off from work, and shop lift a loaf of bread to feed your children, you go to jail. Come close to wrecking the most powerful and resilient economy in the history of the world by a sub prime mortgage lending scandal, and you don't do a day's time in prison. Instead, you get multi-million dollar bonuses, keep and advance your career, are a captain of industry, and have members of Congress defending your commercial acumen. And that is all legal. Of what value is human law when legality is so far removed from morality?
As different as Ancient Israel is from modern day America, the message of G-d's Law is still clear and relevant. We judge and are judged as a society not by how we make it easy for the have to have more. Rather by our compassion, and ability to protect all in society from the enslavement of want and insufficient access to what we all need to survive and thrive.
There is a practical side to life. One hundred per cent equality of distribution of goods and services is not practical today. It may also not be desirable. See again Professor Dershowitz's point above. It is valid. We can allow for classes. We should never permit situations in which the competition for advancement to be rigged. We must also make sure the least among us do not suffer unfairly, or live in want and fear.
If we are to covet anything, and not lose our souls over it, it should be to covet a fair and just society. One in which there is not unfair want, or unjust barrier to advancement.
The laws of man are transient, and imperfect, but perfect-able (they can be improved).
The law's of G-d are eternal, immutable, and always relevant. The forms are timeless, their instantiation need to be applied custom tailored to the challenges of each generation, in their own time and circumstances, inclusive of all view and perspectives.
What is your take on all this? What says your heritage, culture, philosophy? What implications has it for society, including the least of us?
Chaplains spend a lot of our time cleaning up after the messes life and society create. Coveting, and its aftermath are a Chaplaincy as well as a religious and ethical issue.