Beit Midrash

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24. Jealousy

Jealousy sows destruction. But a person who has faith does not become jealous. Such a person knows that everything comes from God, that the Creator gives every person exactly what he ought to have. He understands that everything is for the best.


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

One of the undesirable traits that people sometimes suffer from is jealousy. A person infected with this trait is most unfortunate. Jealousy sows destruction, for it is like a disease that eats away at a person from the inside. This is what the wise King Solomon meant when he said that "envy is the rottenness of the bones" (Proverbs 14:30).

Sometimes a person enjoys a good life and is perfectly happy with what he has, unaware that his friend possesses something that he himself lacks. When he finds out about his fellow, he becomes jealous and is no longer satisfied with his own lot. There is no logic to envy. Jealousy makes a person ignorant and foolish. If his friend did not have this extra possession, he would be happy with what he has. Since, however, he now sees what his fellow has, he is upset. Yet why should what another person has disturb him? What good does it do to be jealous?

Of course, the source of the matter is a lack of faith. A person who has faith does not become jealous. Such a person knows that everything comes from God, that the Creator gives every person exactly what he ought to have. He understands that everything is for the best, and "no man can touch what is prepared for his fellow even to the extent of one hair's breadth" (Yoma 38b). The believer does not become jealous and would gain no enjoyment by having what his fellow possesses.

Jealousy is common among members of the same trade. One is likely to be bothered by the fact that his competitor is more successful than he? It hurts and is humiliating. Sometimes a person does not notice just how much jealousy eats at him, how much he sufferers from it. Therefore, it is important that a person be aware of the actual damage this trait causes. This awareness alone elevates a person and allows him to prevent jealousy's expansion to a certain degree.

It is wrong to compare oneself with others because no two people are alike, not in appearance and not in character. Every person is a unique and inimitable creature, and every person has a role of his own according to his own makeup. Each one of us has virtues and vices. It is impossible to measure the virtues of one against the virtues of another, because people are different by nature. One person is intelligent, a second has refined character traits. One is healthy, a second rich.

Another reason that it is impossible to compare two people is that nobody knows what the future will bring. Things may appear to be going good for somebody at the moment, but who knows what will be tomorrow. And the opposite as well, things may not be looking good at present, but tomorrow everything could change for the better.

Why envy another person's temporarily good fortune? So long as a person cannot see things with the sort of comprehensive and complete view that examines past and future and grasps everything as a whole, there is no reason to envy another or to want to be like him. It is not at all certain that he is really any better off. To the contrary, it is certain that each one has exactly what he needs, and each is definitely entitled to be happy with his lot.

In short, jealousy stems from a narrow and limited view of things. A person becomes jealous because he does not see the future or the past but merely looks at a certain detail which appears to indicate that his fellow is better off. Discard this narrow view of things and avoid the suffering.

Sometimes, however, jealousy can be helpful. It can rouse a person from slumber and stimulate him to progress. Therefore, the sages teach that "emulative zeal increases intelligence." Indeed, jealousy that stimulates a person is a positive thing, but it is nevertheless preferable to find other methods of inspiration and self-fulfillment. Progress needs to come from an inner impulse and not from a desire to obtain what somebody else has.

Therefore the sages teach: "In the period of the footsteps of the Messiah, the wisdom of scholars will disappear. This, apparently, is on account of the fact that it comes from emulative zeal and jealousy causes decay. And regarding the Days to Come it is written: "The envy also of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off; Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not harass Ephraim" (Isaiah 11:13).

Some of the translated biblical verses in the above article were taken from, or based upon, Davka's Soncino Judaic Classics Library (CD-Rom).

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