Jealousy and envy are negative feelings that are generated when we want something that belongs to another individual. Not only that, we begrudge the other person’s fortune and success. A person who is ruled by jealousy often has an “evil eye” (ayin hara) toward others who are better off. Pirkei Avot (4:28) warns us that jealousy, lust and the pursuit of honor are such destructive character traits that it has catastrophic effects on a man’s life.
The last of the Ten Commandments warns us not to covet what belongs to our neighbor. We may not covet his house, not his wife, his possessions or anything he might own. After all, we have to believe that Hashem gives each one of us exactly what we need. Just as a person’s prescription eyeglasses are made exactly for him and it would be foolish to envy another person’s lenses, so too it is foolish to envy another person’s car, house or wife.
According to the rabbis, coveting is neither jealousy nor greed, but includes elements of both. It is an obsession with a part of someone else’s life that becomes so overwhelming that one begins to make plans to acquire it for oneself. It creates a situation of animosity and resentment of our own making against members of our own communities. Ultimately it ruins the bonds of friendship and trust that are necessary to keep any community together.
There are many examples throughout the Torah that demonstrate how jealousy and envy led to destructive actions. Most convincing is the story of Yosef and his brothers. Yosef had his dreams and aspired to be a ruler one day. His father, Yaakov, even gave him a gift of a multicolored coat and treated him as the favorite. His brothers reacted with envy and hatred, stating, “Do you want to dominate and rule us?” They hated him even more (Bereishit 37:8). They first wished to kill him and later changed their minds, selling him as a slave to a passing Arab caravan.
King Saul was enraged with the spirit of jealousy when David received greater accolades than he did (Shmuel 18). “When David returned from killing the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, playing songs of joy on timbrels. The women sang as they played, and said, ‘Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands.’ Then Saul became very angry. This saying did not please him. He said, ‘They have given David honor for ten thousands, but for me only thousands. Now what more can he have but to be king?’ And Saul was jealous and did not trust David from that day on.”
Recently we read the story of the rebellious Korach and his followers (Bamidbar 16). They were jealous of the high positions of authority God had granted to Moshe and Aharon. The Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Mayer Kagan, points out that there are two types of jealousy. One can be jealous of the good things that another person has, meaning that he or she wants them also. Then there is another type of jealousy, which comes with a negative outlook toward others. One who has this second type of jealousy doesn’t want others to be blessed with good things even if he himself will never have them.
Korach and his congregation, said the Chofetz Chaim, suffered from this “stingy-eyed” sort of jealousy. Whether or not Korach could ever be the High Priest, he didn’t want others to have the honor that he lacked. “Why have you placed yourselves above the Congregation of God?” he asked.
Knowing that jealousy, envy and coveting are destructive character traits we now can understand how this leads to hatred of one’s fellow’s success and a bad outlook in life. The Talmud (Yoma 9b) tells us that the second Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of baseless hatred and discord among neighbors and friends.
R’ Dovid Goldwasser suggests that the antidote for this sort of baseless hatred is “ahavat achim,” loving your fellow man. We need to replace baseless hatred with baseless acts of loving kindness. When we accept that Hashem gives each man what is meant for him, we are happy for their successes in life. We are more easily able to overlook slights and we can extend ourselves to live in peace with each other. Our tradition teaches in Pirkei Avot (4:1): “Who is rich? One who is satisfied with one’s lot.” Wealth is not merely the calculation of our net worth, it is the contentment that comes with appreciating each and every day for the blessings it brings.
During this period of mourning, as we approach Tisha B’Av, may Hashem help us overcome our petty jealousies and resentments. May we be spared the harm that comes from nurturing any feelings of hatred that we may harbor.
Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist in private practice. He is vice president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He leads the Summit Avenue Shabbos Gemara shiur and minyan in Fair Lawn, NJ, and is a member of the International Rabbinical Society. He can be reached at [email protected]