Most people don't realize how great and sinister a role envy plays in our lives. But stop and think about it. Dont we all deal with envy practically every single day? We would have no problem driving the car we have, but when we look across the street and see what our neighbor is driving, our car suddenly loses its luster. We would have no problem staying home in the summer or going on a modest vacation, but when we hear where our neighbor is going, we feel impelled to revise our travel plans.
Our children come to us when theyre little, and they say, But he got a new bike! I want a new bike, too!
They get a little older and the requests get a little larger, and the problems of dealing with envy become more severe.
What happens in January when schools have intersession? All along the East Coast, hundreds of teenagers head for the warm climes of Florida and points further south and west. So what do you do when your children come to you and say that everyone else is going, so why cant they? And maybe you cannot afford the cost of a midwinter Florida vacation for your children, or maybe you simply dont want to be part of that culture. So how do you deal with the pressure generated by envy?
And speaking of January, this is the month in which Bais Yaakov girls receive responses to their applications to the various seminaries in Israel. For those unfamiliar with this situation, let me tell you that the competition is fierce. My wife used to teach 12th grade in the Bais Yaakov of Baltimore. She would dread that awful week in January when the replies would come back from the seminaries, when the verdicts would come down, declaring who was accepted and who was rejected. My wife didnt even have to ask. Just one look at their reddened eyes and tear-streaked faces and she knew the entire story.
So your daughter may ask you, Why wasnt I accepted? Why did they want her but not me? What do you say?
Or sometimes your son may see his friends getting engaged while things are not going so smoothly for him. Why could he find his basherte, he wants to know, while Im just sitting here? What do you say?
And believe me, when you listen to them, you can hear it clearly. A major part of the problem is that they do not have what others are getting. If the entire class had been rejected by the seminaries, if the entire group had not yet found mates, it would not be nearly as disturbing.
So this terrible problem of envy affects us as little children. It affects us as adolescents. It affects us as young adults. It affects us as mature adults. It affects us from cradle to grave.
How can we deal with it? How can we avoid being envious and jealous of our peers and friends?
The problem of jealousy is an important and recurring theme in the Torah. The story of Kayin and Hevel. is about jealousy. The story of Yosef and his brothers is about jealousy. The story of Shaul Hamelech and David Hamelech is about jealousy. Why does the Torah devote so much ink to the pitfalls of jealousy? Because human beings have to deal with jealousy day in day out, year after year, for all of their entire lives.
Let us return for a moment to the tragic incident of Kayin and Hevel. Both brought sacrifices. Hevels was accepted, but Kayins was not.
Kayin was the first person in the history of the world who had to compete, the first person in the history of the world who came in second. He was the first person in the history of the world who had to deal with jealousy. He was so consumed with jealousy that he actually killed his brother. And thus he became the first person in the history of the world to commit murder, the first to commit fratricide.
So what does this story tell us?
First, it tells us that jealousy is triggered not so much by objects as by people. We are not actually jealous of what they have but of their having it. Its not the thing itself that matters, but that they have it and we dont. Kayin did not fly into a murderous rage because his sacrifice was rejected. No, that wouldnt have been so terrible. It was that Hevels sacrifice was accepted while his wasnt. That was more than he could bear.
When my children were very young, I took them to a restaurant. We sat down at the table, and there was a container of toothpicks in the center of the table. The toothpicks were totally ignored as we discussed the menu. But then one of my children decided to take a toothpick, and suddenly the other children were all clamoring for toothpicks. Now trust me on this; 6-year-olds and 8-year-olds dont need toothpicks. So why did they want toothpicks all of a sudden? Because the others had toothpicks and they didnt.
Let me tell you a story about Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, the famous rav of Brisk. The chief judge of Rav Chaims beis din, his rabbinical court, was a great scholar named Rav Simchah Zelig.
It once happened that a butcher came into the beis din with a question regarding an animal he had just slaughtered. He had found a lesion on one of its internal organs and he wanted to know whether or not the animal was kosher.
Rav Simchah Zelig looked at the evidence and then considered the question very carefully. In those days, there were no real options for disposing of non-kosher animals. Thus, declaring an animal non-kosher was no simple matter -- it involved very great financial loss, very many rubles. Unfortunately, however, Rav Simchah Zelig could not find any basis for declaring the animal kosher.
Im sorry, he said. This animal is not kosher. It cant be used.
The man sighed as he heard the ruling. He nodded in acceptance and walked out without a whimper.
Three months later, the same man appeared before Rav Simchah Zelig once again, this time to litigate a dispute between him and another person. The disputed amount was a paltry 75 rubles. Rav Simchah Zelig ruled against the man, and it cost him 75 rubles.
The man exploded in anger, shouting at Rav Simchah Zelig and cursing him. The screams were so loud that Rav Chaim heard him and came running. Afraid the man would become violent, Rav Chaim ordered him to leave.
I dont understand, said Rav Simchah Zelig when he was finally alone with Rav Chaim. Three months ago this man comes into my court. I rule against him and it costs him 1500 rubles, but he doesnt say a thing. Today he comes into my court, he loses 75 rubles, and he goes wild. It doesnt make any sense.
The money has nothing to do with it, Rav Chaim replied. Its all about winning and losing. In the case of the animal, there were no winners and losers, just a question about a piece of meat that had to be resolved. But today was a different story altogether. Today he lost and someone else won. That was unacceptable.
Its not the money. Its not the toothpicks. Its being second when someone else is first. Its not having when someone else does have.
Let us now get back to the story of Kayin and Hevel. Let us listen to the advice Hashem offers Kayin on dealing with envy.
Why are you upset? Hashem tells Kayin. If you improve you will surely be uplifted. But if you dont improve, sin lurks in the doorway.
Why are you so upset, Kayin? Why are you letting your feelings of envy and jealousy overcome you? Learn from what happened. Improve. Harness your envy and channel it into positive things. Grow from this experience. If you use it to improve yourself, you will be uplifted. But remember, if you dont improve, if you stew in your jealousy, if you dont deal with your envy, sin crouches in the doorway. You will be plagued and destroyed by your jealousy and envy. They will haunt you until your dying day.
Thats the lesson of jealousy. We have to learn how to deal with it, and we have to teach our children how to deal with it. When we feel an attack of envy coming on, we have to face it head on and grow from it. Then we will be uplifted. Otherwise, we will be smothered by it for the rest of our lives.
I once heard a story about a gravely ill man lying immobilized and connected to tubes and monitors in an intensive care unit. His prospects for recovery were questionable at best, and the man was despondent. Who can blame him? It was a terrible situation. He was constantly morose and withdrawn, barely acknowledging family and friends who came to visit him.
One day, a close friend, who was among his frequent visitors, walked in fully expecting another 15 minutes of gloom and doom. But to his surprise, the patient was chipper and cheerful. His wife was sitting in a chair nearby, reading a book.
Well, Im glad to see you in good spirits, my friend, he said. You must have heard some good news.
Y-yes, I s-sure did, said the patient with great effort.
How wonderful! said the friend. Tell me about it. What happened? Have they found a new medication for you? Have your tests shown great improvement? Tell me.
The patient shook his head. He tried to speak, but he could not get the words out. Instead, he motioned to his wife to relate the good news that had so cheered him up.
You know that manufacturer from Detroit who undercut my husbands business 35 years ago? she asked.
Yes, said the friend. The man your husband blames for his problems.
Thats right, thats the guy, said the patients wife. Well, today the newspapers reported that the guy was killed in a car crash.
Incredible, isnt it? Heres a man hooked up to life-support systems, breathing through tubes in his nose and being fed through tubes in his veins, and what makes him happy? What puts him in a good mood? That he is alive and his enemy is dead.
Sin lurks in the doorway. It can affect us and haunt us and pervert us until our dying day.
The Midrash Shmuel on Avos presents a very illuminating parable about two people of different natures. One was an extremely envious person, the other an insatiable pleasure seeker. Satan comes to them and says, Gentlemen, Ill make you a deal. Ill give one of you whatever you want. Make a wish -- whatever you want -- and its yours. Just one condition. Whatever you get, your friend is going to get twice as much.
Both people faced a terrible dilemma.
The envious person could not deal with someone else getting twice as much as he did. Whatever Im going to wish for, he thought, the other guy is going to get twice as much. I cant live with it.
The pleasure-seeker could not deal with it either. How can I stand the sight of so much pleasure, he thought, and not be able to enjoy it?
So they went back and forth, each one pushing the choice onto the other. You choose. No, you choose. No, you choose.
Reluctantly, the envious person agreed to choose first. What should I ask for? he thought furiously. Should I ask for a million dollars? I cant, because then hell get two million. Should I ask for a 25-room mansion? I cant, because then hell get a 50-room palace. So what should I do?
Finally, the envious person came to his decision. He turned to Satan and said, Okay, I made up my mind. I want you to take out one of my eyes.
This, points out the Midrash Shmuel, is how twisted and warped we can become. This is what envy can accomplish. A person who is ruled by envy would forgo the fondest wishes of his heart and ask to have his eye put out, just as long as someone else does not have more than he does. It is absolutely mindboggling.
Envy destroys, warps, corrodes, corrupts, perverts.
Moreover, not only is it destructive to be envious, it is also destructive to arouse envy in others.
Two of the scariest words in the Jewish language are ayin hara, the evil eye. People are afraid of ayin hara. Hows your baby? Fine, pooh, pooh, pooh. The concept of ayin hara, the evil eye, is the great equalizer of the Jewish people. Chasidim are afraid of ayin hara. Misnagdim are afraid of ayin hara. Ashkenazim are afraid of ayin hara, Sephardim are afraid of ayin hara. Religious Jews are afraid of ayin hara. Secular Jews are afraid of ayin hara. Everyone is afraid of ayin hara.
I once heard that a baseball player on the New York Yankees was asked by a sports reporter from the New York Times, To what do you attribute the improvement in your performance this year?
So this ballplayer, who is a total Italian gentile, sticks out his arm to show off the roite bendel hes wearing around his wrist. For anyone who is not familiar with the roite bendel, it is a little red string bracelet which supposedly wards off the ayin hara. I dont know for sure, he says, but my grandmother from Sicily, she sent me this little red thing, and I wear it all the time, and Im doing much better.
Apparently Sicilians worried about ayin hara, too.
I once saw a license plate on a very expensive automobile which read K9HARA. K Nine Hara, or rather, Kain Ayin Hara, which in Yiddish means, let there be no evil eye. I kid you not.
This ayin hara business, by the way, is not superstitious nonsense. According to the Gemara, it is one of the most lethal forces in the world. So how does it work? Can someone looking at me the wrong way affect me? Can someone giving me the evil eye cause injury to me? Even if Im innocent? Even if I havent done anything wrong? Even if Im minding my own business?
Rav Eliahu Dessler, in his classic Michtav MEliahu, suggests that ayin hara cannot affect a person who is guiltless. Ayin hara can only affect a person who arouses envy in other people. In America we are told, If you have it, flaunt it! But the Torah begs to differ. If we have it and flaunt it, thereby causing envy in others, we are most definitely doing something wrong. And if we do arouse envy, the consequence is that we become vulnerable to the evil eye.
So what is the antidote? asks Rav Dessler. How can we protect ourselves if we are fortunate enough to have a wonderful home, wonderful children, a wonderful wife, a wonderful salary, a wonderful job? The only way, he explains, is to become a giver to the community rather than a taker. People look kindly on givers. They are inclined to be generous with people who give generously of their time, their money and their energies. But those who hoard it and flaunt it, who are miserly with the gifts Hashem has granted them, are not as pure as the driven snow. People are not inclined to cut them any slack, and thus, they become vulnerable to ayin hara.
So we see clearly that being envious can destroy us and causing others to be envious of us can also destroy us. So what do we do? How do contend with this overwhelming human tendency that ensnared such great people as Kayin, Yosefs brothers and Shaul Hamelech? Whats the key?
The Gemara (Shabbos 152b) discusses the verse (Mishlei 14:30), Urekav atzamos kinah. Jealousy rots the bones What does this mean? The Gemara explains, If a person is jealous in this world, his bones will decompose after he dies. But if he is not jealous in this world, his bones will remain intact after his death. In effect, one of the punishments for being jealous is post-mortem decomposition.
We know that Hashem punishes midah keneged midah, measure for measure. Therefore, there must be some connection between decomposition of the bones and being jealous. What is that connection?
The connection, I believe, goes to the very root of jealousy. A person who is jealous is fundamentally unhappy with who he is. He would much rather be someone else. He is unhappy with his wife. He is unhappy with his family. He is unhappy with his job. He is unhappy with his position. He wants to be someone else. He rejects who he is, his atzmius, his very essence. Therefore, he loses his atzamos, his bones, to decomposition.
It is no coincidence that the Hebrew words for essence and bones are so closely related. If there is any part of the human body that symbolizes what the person is, it is his bones. When a person feels something in his bones, it penetrates to his very essence. Therefore, when a person is jealous and denies his essence, he causes the decomposition of his bones.
So how do we become happy with ourselves? How can a person come to the realization that he is unique and that theres no point in being someone else? How can a person come to the realization that he is not lacking anything he needs to be himself?
There is only one answer to these questions. It is a rock-solid, fundamental belief in the Creator of the Universe. A person must have a profound conviction that the Creator formed him and placed him here on this earth for his own special role and that He has given him all the tools and the means he needs to fulfill that role. Faith is the key to overcoming jealousy.
In Mesilas Yesharim (Ch.11), R Moshe Chaim Luzatto writes that if people trusted in the hidden wisdom of Hashem they would have absolutely no reason to be jealous of what others possess. If a person truly believed that there is a Creator Who controls this world and sends people down to fulfill a unique purpose; if a person truly believed that the Creator watches over our every step and provides us with the ability to do what He wants us to do, how could he be jealous of someone else?
The Rikanti writes that the mitzvah of lo sachmod, do not covet, is fundamental to all the mitzvos in the Torah. Let us stop and think about this for a moment.
The Aseres Hadibros, the Ten Commandments, are the fundamentals of Judaism. Every single one of them is a fundamental of the faith. So let us begin.
Anochi Hashem Elokecha. I am Hashem, your Lord. Faith in the Almighty is the basis of our religion.
Lo yihyeh lecha elohim acherim. You shall not have other gods. Of course. Idol worship is out. There cannot be two Gods.
Lo sisa. Dont mention Hashems Name in vain. Reverence is critical.
Zachor es yom Hashabbos lekadsho. By observing and sanctifying Shabbos, we bear witness that Hashem created the world in six days. Very important.
Kabed es avicha vees imecha. Honoring parents conditions us to be grateful to the source of our benefits, feelings ultimately channeled into our relationship with Hashem.
Lo sirtzach. Murder. Lo sinaf. Adultery. Lo signov. Kidnapping. Lo saaneh bereiacha eid sheker. Bearing false witness. All these are antithetical to faith in a benevolent Creator Who seeks a just and moral social order. These are, therefore, important fundamentals of Judaism.
Lo sachmod aishes reiecha . . . vechamoro vechol asher lereiecha. Jealousy. Dont covet your neighbors wife or his donkey or any of his possessions. This is a fundamental tenet of Judaism? If a person covets someone elses donkey, he cant be a good Jew? If a person covets someone elses car, he cant be a good Jew? Why did Hashem include jealousy in the Ten Commandments along with faith and idolatry and Shabbos observance? Is it really so fundamental to Judaism?
Thats right! The answer is a resounding yes. Jealousy is the exact opposite of faith. Dont be jealous tells us that Hashem controls the world. Dont be jealous tells us that Hashem cares. Dont be jealous tells us that Hashem is interested in each of us. Dont be jealous tells us that Hashem sits down every Rosh Hashanah and decides how much money each of us should make this year. Dont be jealous tells us that Hashem decides what kind of year each of us will have. This is fundamental to Judaism. This is vital to Judaism.
The Aseres Hadibros begin with emunah in theory, but they end with emunah in practice. Lo sachmod. Dont be jealous. Thats emunah in practice. Dont be jealous of your neighbors wife, because the wife He gave is you is one He wants you to have as a life partner. Dont be jealous of your neighbors house, because the house He gave to you is the one in which He wants you to live. Dont be jealous of your neighbors donkey, because that donkey is meant to be that persons donkey, not yours.
Thats what emunah is all about. And if we put this into practice, our daily lives would be transformed.
All parents and teachers know that no one standard applies to all children. Teachers know that they cant demand the same type of performance from everyone in the classroom. They cant set up a contest and demand that everyone learn an entire perek by heart. We cant demand that from everyone. Children have to be taught to be satisfied with performing according to their own talents and abilities.
Some people have been known to disagree with this point of view, basing their opinion on the Gemara (Bava Basra 22a), which tells us, Kinas sofrim tarbeh chachmah. Envy among students proliferates wisdom. They infer from this that competition is to be desired because it brings about an increase in the overall volume of learning.
But this is an incorrect interpretation of the Gemara. Competition does not mean that what one person does everyone else must also do. That is not a Jewish concept. Rather, the Gemara is telling us that if one child in the classroom exerts himself to memorize an entire chapter, the rest of the class will be inspired to exert themselves to the limits of their own particular abilities and accomplish the most they possibly can.
Rav Aharon Feldman once related that when he first came to Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, Rav Yitzchak Hutner, the famous Rosh Yeshivah, asked him, So what do you think of the yeshivah?
This yeshivah is unlike any Ive ever seen before, he replied with not inconsiderable temerity. It seems that in this yeshivah a person can get recognition even if he isnt the best learner. Ive never seen such a yeshivah. In other yeshivos, excellence is measured by outstanding learning. But what kind of yeshivah gives recognition to someone who does not excel in learning?
You know what kind of yeshivah it is? Rav Hutner told him. Its the kind of yeshivah I want to have. Its the kind of a yeshivah in which a person can know that if he has certain talents and uses them he will get recognition. Its the kind of yeshivah where everyone can reach a level of excellence. Its the kind of yeshivah I want to have. In Chaim Berlin, if there was a boy with musical talent, he would sit next to Rav Hutner at his Purim table and play the violin. And he would feel like a million dollars.
We have to deal with our children as individuals. As one psychologist put it, if the only tool that we have is a hammer, then every problem in the world becomes a nail. But not every problem in the world is a nail. Parents and educators must have toolboxes that contain many tools. We must teach the children that they are infinitely worthy for themselves, no matter what their abilities are. The people with lesser talents and abilities are not Hashems mistakes, Heaven forbid. Hashem created each person exactly as he is and gave him a mission in life according to those abilities. Our educational system would be vastly improved if we understood this.
The business world would also be vastly improved if we understood that competition is really futile; that Hashem decides on Rosh Hashanah how much were each going to make, that what we do will not affect what we or others will make during the year. If we understood this, our attitudes towards business would be much more positive.
A man once wanted to get into a certain line of business. He went to his friends and relatives who were in the same line and said, Listen, Id like to get into your line of business. Can you give me some customers and leads?
At every turn, the man was rebuffed. What, I should give you my customers? was the typical reply. And whats going to be with my business?
Finally, he approached Rav Moshe Mordechai Heschel, who was later to become the Kopichenitzer Rebbe. No problem, said Rav Moshe Mordechai. Here, take my customer list.
The man was stunned. Youre giving me the whole list? Whats going to be with your business?
Dont worry about it, Rav Moshe Mordechai replied. Do you think Hashem doesnt have enough parnassah for the both of us?
I once told this story to someone, and he advised me not to repeat it when I speak in public. Only a future rebbe could do something like that, but ordinary people would never relate to it. But I didnt take this advice, and I did repeat this story in public.
One day, a simple Jew in Baltimore came over to me and told me that a similar thing had happened to him. He had an established electronics business, and someone had asked him for help in starting a similar business.
So I gave him my Rolodex, said the man. It helped him get started and hes quite successful now. By the way, my own business didnt suffer one iota.
Hows that for ordinary Jewish people? Never underestimate what a Jew can do if he is properly educated.
A business man once came running to Rav Meir Premishlaner. Rebbe, help me. Someone is opening a business like mine right down down the street from me. Whats gonna be? Oy gevald! Im going to lose all my business.
Calm down, my friend, said Rav Meir Premishlaner. Tell me, have you ever noticed that before a horse drinks from a pond or a river he always stamps on the ground first? Do you know why? Because when the horse sees his reflection in the pond, he thinks theres another horse there. So he tries to chase him away. Dont worry about this other business. The threat to you is just a figment of your imagination.
A Jewish jeweler in Antwerp, Belgium, once came to Rav Chaim Kreiswirth, the rav of the city. I dont understand it, he told Rav Kreiswirth. The man across the street is doing twice the business I am. What am I doing wrong?
How much square footage do you have? asked Rav Kreiswirth, thinking the other man might have a bigger store.
The man shook his head. No, thats not it. I checked it out, and we both have the same square footage.
How about the lighting? asked Rav Kreiswirth. Maybe he has better lighting. Lighting is very important in the jewelry business, you know.
The man shook his head again. No, we have the same type of lighting.
Well, maybe he just has better goods than you do, suggested Rav Kreiswirth.
No, said the man. We both have the same supplier.
How many customers come to his store each day? asked Rav Kreiswirth.
Well, I know that he has twice the number of customers I do.
Aha! said Rav Kreiswirth. Now I know what youre doing wrong. Every day your friend across the street comes into his store and minds his business. But every day you come into your store, youre looking across the street. You, my friend, are minding two stores at the same time. Its no wonder that youre not doing as well.
Ours would be a different world if people really believed in Hashem, if they realized that everything is in Hashems hands. Its a matter of faith. Its a matter of emunah.
Let us return now to the problem of what to tell your children when they tell you that all the other kids are going to Florida for midwinter break. So what can you tell them? Are you going to tell them, No, you cant go because its a matter of faith? Are you going to say, Believe and you wont be jealous?
I hate to disappoint you, but thats not going to work.
If you start talking about faith when they come for the Florida trip or the new car or whatever it is that they come for, its just not going to work. If you first start talking about faith at crunch time, dont expect to be successful.
Faith in Hashem has to be one of the constant themes of our homes. It has to be been discussed often at our kitchen tables and our dining room tables. Our children have to hear from us constantly that theres a Father in Heaven Who takes care of us. When we suffer setbacks, be they personal, financial, medical or any of the other trials and tribulations that make up the fabric of life, our children should constantly hear from us, Listen, Hashem has helped us until now, and He will continue to help us in the future. Hashem has to be a reality in our lives. Our children must hear from us that Hashem has a role for us and a place for each and every one of us.
Then when they hear they cannot go to Florida, it may be a little tough for them to swallow, but they will be able to deal with it. No, you cant go to Florida, you have to tell them, because we cant afford it. We dont always look at what other people have and do. Thats not the way we do things in this home. Theyll know where youre coming from and theyll respect you for it. But only if that is really the way you live.
When you want to buy a car, do you look out the window to see what kind of car your neighbor is driving? When you want to go on vacation, do you want to know where your neighbor went on vacation? Do you try to keep up with the Joneses or the Cohenses? If the answer to all these questions is no, then you have a very good chance with your children.
Let us take one more look at the last of the Aseres Hadibros, the prohibition of lo sachmod. The Torah lists all that we should not covet, our friends wife, his house, his donkey and so on, and the Torah concludes, Vechal asher lereiecha, nor anything that your friend may possess. What does the Torah mean by this? asked the Satmar Rav.
Every person, explains the Satmar Rav, has his own peckel, his own little bundle of grief. No matter how fortunate he may appear to the world, you can rest assured that his life is far from a bed of roses. So why should you covet the things your friend has? If you want to take what your friend has, you would have to take all that your friend possesses, the whole package, all the pain and sorrow as well.
There is an old saying that if every person put his or her peckel out on a table, and had the choice of taking back any peckel they want, each person would take back his own peckel. Life is a package deal, good and bad, and in the final analysis, everyone is most comfortable with his own package.
The first time I heard that saying was at a concert to benefit HASC, the Hebrew Academy for Special Children. A 14-year-old boy got up in front of 3,000 people and spoke about what it was like to have an emotionally disturbed brother. He described the terrible strain on the family, the difficulties, the disruption of the household. And he spoke of how HASC had helped this child immeasurably.
As the boy was delivering this most moving speech, he coughed and coughed constantly. Youll have to excuse my cough, the boy said. You see, I have cystic fibrosis. But its all right. When everyone puts everything on the table, you usually take back your own peckel. This is mine.
This is the bottom line. Hashem put us here, and He gave each and every one of us a peckel to get us through life, to find the fulfillment for which we are destined. Its a matter of faith.
We say every morning, Baruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Haolam sheasah li kol tzorki. Blessed are You, Hashem our Lord, King of the Universe, Who has prepared for me all my needs. Let us think deeply about these words. Let us realize that if Hashem has indeed given us everything
we need there is no reason to be jealous of anything or anyone else.