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Understanding the Root of Jealousy

Today is Tisha B’Av, a day for mourning the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. We learned last week that the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed due to Sinas Chinam (baseless hatred). The fact that we’re still in exile means we have not yet rectified this sin of Sinas Chinam.

One cause of hatred is when we focus too much on the differences between us and our fellow Jews. We may look different on the outside, but deep down, every Jew has so much in common. We all have the same human wants, feelings, and desires… and even more deeply than that, we are all working toward the same goal of serving Hashem. When we focus on these points of commonality, the differences fade away and we are better able to love each other.

This week, let’s take a look at another cause of Sinas Chinam: the feeling of jealousy.

This week, let’s take a look at another cause of Sinas Chinam: the feeling of jealousy.

Jealousy can pop up in many areas of our lives: Imagine you hear that your friend just got a promotion at work, butyou’re simmering inside because you’ve been working at the same job for years and can’t ever seem to move up the career ladder. Or imagine your friend tells you that she just aced her math test, but it makes you feel bitter inside, because you studied so hard and just managed to get an 80. 

We know we should be rejoicing when we hear good news, but sometimes hearing about other people’s successes is just too painful! We feel jealous that they’re enjoying a success or talent that we desperately wish we had. Sometimes this jealousy might run so deep that we even wish the other person would lose what they have, because it’s too painful for us to feel that they’re enjoying something that we ourselves are lacking.

If we feed into these thoughts of jealousy, they can gradually transform into feelings of hatred. Indeed, Rav Chaim Vital1 says that jealousy is one of the primary causes of Sinas Chinam. 

But what can we do about it? How can we rid ourselves of jealousy, when it really is painful to witness other people’s successes?

The Root of Jealousy

When we feel jealous, what are we really thinking? We are thinking: “I want what he has. It’s not fair that he has it, and I don’t!”

These kind of thoughts are very human and understandable if we look at the world with a surface-level understanding, where we’re all competing to be successful in different areas. But if we bring Hashem into the picture, then we can see the world through a whole different perspective.

The Sifsei Chaim explains2 that jealousy stems from a lack of trust in Hashem. Someone who feels jealous believes that there is something he needs – and even deserves – to have, but it is being withheld from him unfairly. 

Jealousy stems from a lack of trust in Hashem.

By contrast, someone who has developed a true deep sense of bitachon will understand that Hashem controls everything that happens in this world. No person can ever take anything away from me if Hashem wants me to have it. Hashem knows exactly what I need in order to serve Him, so if I am lacking something, it means that I don’t really need it!

If I am lacking something, it means that I don’t really need it!

For example: “Even though I really wanted to get a ‘yes’ from that shidduch, if they said ‘no’ then he/she must not be the right one for me.” … “I really wanted to get that job, but someone else got hired. That must mean that I wasn’t ever meant to have it.” … “If the Greenbergs won the raffle – even though I bought a TON of tickets – it must be that I wasn’t ever meant to win.”

Furthermore, the Sifsei Chaim adds that if Hashem didn’t give me something – a certain personality trait, possession, success, or set of life circumstances – not only does that mean I don’t need it, but it actually means it wouldn’t be good for me to have it.

Not only does that mean I don’t need it, but it actually means it wouldn’t be good for me to have it.

You might think you need a bigger house, but maybe Hashem wants you to live in a smaller house so you can develop the skill of tolerating many people in cramped spaces. You might think you need a higher IQ, but maybe Hashem wants you to develop the middah of patience and persistence in your studying. You might think you need a simpler family situation, but maybe Hashem wants you to learn how to handle complications and be more deeply understanding and sympathetic for other people.

To help picture what this means, Rav Dessler3 suggests that we imagine a very short man who is wearing a fancy, stylish suit. Let’s say you are much taller than this short man. Are you jealous of his suit? Do you wish you had it? Of course not! You have no desire to take his suit because the suit would never fit you. (His suit would never “suit” you!) Not only would his suit be useless for you, but it would actually look BAD on you if you wore it!

So too, when we notice impressive talents, possessions, or successes that other people have, we must remember that if I don’t have it, it means I don’t need it. Hashem gave this thing to this other person because he needs it for serving Hashem. But I have a different, unique role to play in this world. And for that role, I need different tools.

If I don’t have it, it means I don’t need it.

Wishing Good for Others

Someone who has truly internalized this realization that Hashem gives me everything I need – and no person can take anything away from me – will not feel jealous of other people. In fact, he will do exactly the opposite – he will rejoice in other people’s successes.

In fact, he will do exactly the opposite – he will rejoice in other people’s successes.

When your neighbor gets a promotion at work, do you celebrate and show him how happy you are? Or do you grit your teeth and barely manage to croak out a measly “mazal tov”?

Indeed, the Chovos HaLevavos4 says that someone who has Bitachon will love other people, and they will love him. He doesn’t want to hurt other people, and is not afraid that other people’s successes are taking away from his own success. The Sifsei Chaim5 adds that such a person will even give generously toward other people, because he is not afraid that other people are taking anything away from him. He knows that Hashem is taking care of all his needs. He will be free of lustful desire, hatred, and jealousy, which all stem from a lack of Bitachon.

As we explained last week, every Jewish person is like a different limb in the unified “body” of Klal Yisrael. Just as your right hand would of course be happy about any good experienced by your left hand, so too, we can each rejoice in our fellow Jews’ successes because we’re all part of the Jewish people. We are all working toward the goal of serving Hashem, so any success for you is a success for me as well. 

This week, let’s practice remembering that Hashem has given me everything that I need to serve Him. Other people’s successes do not detract from me at all; just the opposite – I am happy for other people’s successes because it means something good for the whole “body” of Klal Yisrael.

Sources: [1] Shaarei Kedusha Vol.II. Shaar 4; [2] Sifsei Chaim Middos V’Avodas Hashem, Vol. 1 pg. 665-6; [3] Michav MeiEliyahu Vol 1. pg. 136; [4] Chovos HaLevavos Shaar HaBitachon, end of Chapters 5 and 6; [5] ibid.

Your Challenge

Do something to show that you realize Hashem gives you exactly what you need, and that other people’s successes do not take anything away from you

 Once a day, either:

(a) When your friend tells you good news, verbalize how happy you are for him/her; or

(b) Daven for something you know your friend needs (e.g. a job, better parnassah, a shidduch, healthy children, good friends, success in a certain endeavor, etc.); or

(c) When you feel jealous of another person or realize someone else has something you wish you had, say out loud: “If I don’t have this, it means Hashem decided I don’t need it.”

Torah Questions

  1. There was someone in Moshe Rabbeinu’s family who could have been jealous of Moshe, but the Torah tells us that this person chose to be happy instead. Who was it?
  2. How was this person rewarded for being happy for Moshe? (See Rashi on Shemos 4:14)
  3. Who said to who: “Hashem chose to give the Torah to human beings because we struggle with feelings of jealousy[which Hashem wants us to overcome]”? (See Shabbos 88b-89a)
  4. According to Mishlei 11:25, what will happen to someone who is jealous? (or see Shabbos 152b)
  5. According to Bava Metzia 107b, what daily habit can help a person avoid jealousy?
  6. Pirkei Avos 4:21 says that jealousy is one of 3 middos that “remove a person from this world.” What are the other 2 middos?

Questions to Ponder

  1. Can you remember a time when you originally felt jealous of another person, but eventually were able to feel happy for their success? How did you do it?
  2. Do you know other people who are very good at rejoicing in other people’s successes? How do you think they do it?
  3. Pirkei Avos 4:21 says that jealousy is one of 3 middos that “remove a person from this world.” What do you think it means that jealousy “removes a person from this world”?
  4. Rav Tzadok HaKohen says that jealousy and anger come from the same root. What do you think that means? What do jealousy and anger have in common?’
  5. The Hebrew word “Kinah” can mean both jealous and zealous. Why do you think jealousy and zealousness share the same root? Are they the same feeling?
  6. The Sefer Chochmah U’Mussar points out that sometimes we are jealous of other people even for things that we can’t possibly have, or wouldn’t even want for ourselves anyway. (For example: Imagine that your classmate is chosen to become the head of the choir, and you feel bitter inside, but you yourself have no desire to be the head of the choir anyway.) Where do you think this type of jealousy stems from? If you don’t want the thing yourself, why do you feel jealous?

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