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  Chapter 15 from
Twerski On Spirituality

By Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski 


Other Available Chapters
19  33 


Rejoicing With Others

It is clear that a major difference between animals and humans is that all animal drives are centripetal; i.e., they are all directed to self-gratification. A human being can have centrifugal drives, rejoicing when others are gratified.

There is reason to believe that animals are capable of envy, or at least something akin to it. Animals will fight over food, and the loser will walk away with what appears to be disappointment, probably resentful that the other animal has the food rather than him. This is about as close to envy as one can get. There is nothing to indicate, however, that an animal can be happy when other animals attain something. Taking pleasure in another’s success is a singularly human feature, hence, it too is a component of spirituality. We thus have polar opposites: Being envious of someone else is an animal trait, whereas rejoicing with another person’s happiness is a human trait. We ascend in spirituality when we do the latter, and descend when we are envious.

Envy is not only a reprehensible trait, but is also a futile and distressing feeling which can affect a person both emotionally and physically. The latter was emphatically stated by Solomon, who was obviously aware of the psychosomatic consequences of envy when he said “A kind (lit. soft) heart provides for life, while envy rots one’s bones” (Proverbs 14:30). The harm of envy is compounded by the fact that it is so futile, because begrudging another person’s success gains one nothing.

Envy is virtually identical with coveting that which belongs to others, which is explicitly forbidden by the Tenth Commandment. Envy is not only the antithesis of spirituality in its own right, but also betrays the existence of other major defects, as pointed out by Ibn Ezra.

Ibn Ezra raises the question: How can the Torah forbid one to covet? It is reasonable to expect of a person to be in control of his actions and behavior, which is what all the other commandments require, but how can one control a feeling? If one has a desire for something that another person has, is it reasonable to expect him to quell that desire?

Ibn Ezra provides a valid psychological answer. Suppose a person who is greedy were to be told that a powerful telescope on a satellite detected mountains of gold and diamonds on a star several hundred light years away. (Ibn Ezra did not, of course, use this metaphor in the 12th century.) One could become immensely wealthy by hauling off buckets of gold and jewels. Even though this person hungers for wealth, he would not give this source of riches any serious thought whatever. Why? Because since it is countless trillions of miles distant, it is completely inaccessible and will be so forever. In other words, Ibn Ezra says that a person will not have any desire for something that is totally beyond his reach.

If so, Ibn Ezra continues, why would a person covet someone else’s wife or belongings? It can only be because, however remote a possibility, these are not considered totally beyond one’s reach. But they would not be at all accessible if a person were absolutely committed to observance of the other commandments: You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not bear false witness. Therefore, Ibn Ezra reasons, if one has a desire for something that belongs to another person, it means that it is not as completely inaccessible as the gold or diamonds on a distant star, and this can only be because one’s commitment to the other commandments is not absolute. Clearly, the latter constitutes a major character defect.

The converse of envy is taking pleasure in another person’s success, and being happy that he has the goods in life. You can easily measure this aspect of spirituality in yourself by seeing how you would react if an acquaintance of yours were to receive a major promotion at his job, or if you were truly happy if he were able to buy a new luxury automobile, while you are driving an old, beat-up model.

Parents generally take pleasure in their children’s success, even when their children surpass them. The Talmud states, “A person is not envious of his child or of his student” (Sanhedrin 105b). The reason for this is that children and students are considered extensions of one’s self, and their gain is also the gain of the parent or teacher. If we achieve what Hillel said is the basis of Torah, to love one’s neighbor as one’s self, this would be akin to the parent/child or teacher/student relationship, and one would partake in another’s happiness as if it were one’s own.

Judaism teaches that spiritual drives are an expression of the neshamah (soul). The Torah states that when G–d created man, He “breathed the breath of life into him” (Genesis 2:7), and the Zohar points out that when one exhales, he exhales something from within himself. Thus, G–d breathing a breath of life into man means that He put something of Himself into man, and the human spirit is therefore a “part,” as it were, of G–d Himself. Since G–d is absolute unity, all neshamos are one, hence all humans are one in spirit.

The fact that we are separate individuals is because our physical bodies are distinct. In other words, mankind is one in spirit, but many in body. To the extent that we give priority to the spiritual aspect of our being, to that extent we are united as one. To the extent that we emphasize the physical aspect of our being, to that degree we are separate.

We can now understand why Hillel considered “Love your neighbor” to be the essence of Judaism: because such love is attainable only when we fulfill our spiritual drives. The more we indulge our physical selves, the more we separate from one another. Spirituality and unity are therefore two aspects of the same principle. Complete observance of all Torah tenets, the ethical/moral as well as the ritual, will result in the attainment of spirituality and unity.

 
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