Based on shiurim of Rav Dovid Siegel
A Middos Workshop: Waging War With Jealousy (Part
Now that we have presented several issues of our Middos
Workshop, this may be a good time to address a basic
question: What are middos?
They are usually translated as character traits, but this
translation is not quite accurate. More literally,
"middos" means measurements and, in fact, that is what
they really are.
So far, all the character traits we have discussed have a
proper measurement. We generally try to eliminate ga'ava,
but we now know that there is a time and place for it.
Even the terrible trait of anger has certain instances when
it is proper. In essence, every midda has both a
positive and a negative channel.
What about the midda that we analyzed in the last
issue, and which we will elaborate on now? The lowly trait
most people would never admit to in public: jealousy. Is
there a proper measure for it? If so, when is jealousy an
Shlomo Hamelech says in Mishlei (23:17), "Al yikaneh
libcho bechato'im, ki im beyir'as Hashem kol hayom. Do
not let your heart be envious -- except for fear of Hashem,
the entire day." The Midrash quotes this verse to
explain the Torah's reference to Rochel Imeinu's jealousy.
"Vatekanei Rochel ba'achosoh -- and Rochel envied her
sister." Rochel saw that Leah had taken the lead in building
Yaakov's house and she felt jealous.
Jealous? Let us not forget that this is the same Rochel who
gave up her rightful husband in order not to embarrass her
older sister. To take the above verse as an expression of
Rochel's animosity towards her sister is an inconsistent and
unfair view of our righteous Rochel Imeinu. Obviously, this
envy was not the lowly feeling with which we usually
Rashi explains that Rochel was jealous of Leah's good deeds.
According to Rochel's reasoning, the fact that Leah bore
children indicated that she deserved to, while she, Rochel,
did not. This was the point that Rochel envied: Leah's
righteousness. In light of the above, the Vilna Gaon explains
the above verse from Mishlei in the following manner:
"We should busy ourselves all day with being jealous of those
who have more yiras Shomayim than we."
In simple terms, jealousy is my desire for something that my
friend has. In most cases, this desire is not acceptable.
That is to say, Yiddishkeit does not look approvingly
at wanting what others have.
HaRav Mottel Katz zt'l of Telshe maintained that we
apply our middos in a backwards way. Hashem blessed us
with two conflicting attitudes: contentment
(histapkus) and the lack thereof. We are generally
content with our spiritual achievements but rarely satisfied
with our material circumstances. HaRav Mottel zt'l
said we have our priorities upside- down. We should
always be satisfied with our material circumstances. But when
it comes to our spiritual achievements, we should never be
content with what we have done. While the concept of
mistapek bemu'ot is commendable when it comes to the
material side of life, it is entirely inappropriate for our
The difficulty in this is that we naturally desire more
physicality, and are easily satisfied with our spiritual
status quo. But when it comes down to it, after 120, we will
not take anything material with us. So, if we follow our
natural tendencies, we will eventually go nowhere.
Conversely, those who aim towards perfection are always
looking to fulfill their ultimate potential. But what is that
potential? How much can we actually achieve?
Although we do not really know ourselves, we can get a sense
of our limits when we see what others have achieved. Looking
at great people's accomplishments broadens the scope of our
own potential. If I see Reb Ploni davening with
intense concentration, this proves that such levels of
kavonoh are attainable. If Mrs. Almoni speaks calmly
to her children even when five small ones are screaming
around her, and three older ones are playing tag in the
kitchen, then I know that such self-control is in the realm
of possibility. If so, then I can also aim for these lofty
Chazal tell us: "Illulei shekino Avrohom beMalkitzedek, lo
hoyoh koneh shomayim vo'oretz. Had Avrohom not been
jealous of Malkitzedek, he would not have acquired heaven and
earth for Hashem." Chazal explain that Avrohom Ovinu asked
Malkitzedek (Shem) why he merited to go out of Noah's ark.
Malkitzedek answered that he had done tzedokoh.
Avrohom questioned him, "But there were no poor people on the
Malkitzedek replied, "No, I did tzedokoh with animals
From this reply, Avrohom deduced that if Malkitzedek was
spared because of sustaining animals, Avrohom would be even
more protected for sustaining people created in Hashem's
image. Immediately, Avrohom set up his famous eishel,
the original soup kitchen, in Be'er Sheva.
Malkitzedek's actions were certainly not Avrohom Ovinu's
first introduction to lovingkindness. He already had a four-
door tent open all day and night for guests of all kinds. But
he applied Malkitzedek's lesson to himself and enhanced his
Rabbeinu Yonah states that our Ovos did not go beyond their
natural capacity. They simply used all their potential to
reveal the greatest degree of kovod Shomayim.
Chazal enlighten us about the great care Avrohom Ovinu showed
his guests. Every person, beggars included, was treated
royally and served delicacies fit for a king. When people saw
Avrohom going to such great lengths for everyone, they
understood that Hashem's example was motivating him. They
realized that if this is what a human being can achieve, how
full of chesed Hashem must be.
In retrospect, had Avrohom not envied Malkitzedek's level of
benevolence, he would not have revealed the degree of
kovod Shomayim that he did, and he would not have
fulfilled his potential.
Now, back to Rochel Imeinu. Rochel could have resigned
herself to the fact that she was barren. But what motivated
her to change her situation was that Leah had already
overcome her barrenness. When Rochel observed that Leah was
blessed with children, Rochel reasoned that she needed to
develop herself further. Again, jealousy acted as the
motivation for self-improvement.
We tend to underestimate how much we can truly achieve.
Sometimes, it takes someone else to help us realize the
spiritual levels we can reach. We should always appreciate
those pangs of jealousy and let them press us towards greater
One word of caution: Beware of stepping beyond the
limit. If I notice my neighbor involving himself in an area
that is out of my league, I should not approach it. Positive
jealousy can only motivate us within the range of our
capabilities. Remember that we are not aiming to be like
others. Our kinah should merely prompt us to achieve a
bit more than we are at present, and to be what we can be.
Later on, we can take a step further, and then another. But
if our jealousy leads us into a depression, it is not leading
us down the right path. We must be realistic.
So in what way does jealousy practically benefit us? Why does
Mishlei urge us to devote ourselves to this midda?
The message of jealousy is not to be complacent, but to
always aim for greater spiritual heights.
Someone may argue that he already has a satisfactory position
in Olom Habo. He may say to himself, "I do lots of
mitzvos, and I'm generally a good Yid, so why exert myself to
be the best? Third best is also OK."
Regarding this question, the Ramchal compares this to our
physical world. Let us say I grew up together with my friend
Yossi. Suddenly, Yossi is elevated to a position of authority
over me. I cannot handle it. "What makes him better than me?
We grew up together!"
If I have this feeling in this world, how much greater will
my feeling of regret be when I see my peers in higher
positions in the next world. Bearing this in mind, one should
push himself to reach the spiritual levels of those around
him. Once again, jealousy can motivate us to fulfill our
Orchos Tzaddikim tells us that even if we find a
rosho, a wicked person with only one redeeming
quality, we should be jealous of that midda and
integrate it into ourselves. Am I jealous of him? No, just of
that one trait.
Even Eisov Horosho can be an object of our envy. Rabbon
Shimon ben Gamliel said, "My kibbud ov vo'eim is
exemplary, but I have not reached the kibbud ov vo'eim
of Eisov. Eisov served his father in kingly robes, but I do
It is not that Rabbon Shimon ben Gamliel wanted to be in
Eisov's shoes, but that that one outstanding quality nagged
at him. Although he felt that he could not actually serve his
parents in kingly robes, he could try to give them the royal
treatment that Eisov gave his father.
If we can grow to new spiritual heights from observations of
a rosho, how much more can we develop from our
perceptions of great people.
The Meiri advises us that in matters of gashmiyus, we
should look at those below us. In this way, we will always be
satisfied with our physical situation. We learn this lesson
from Eliyahu Hanovi, who disguised himself as a poor beggar
and knocked on the door of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva and his
wife Rochel were so impoverished that she had to pick out the
straw from her hair every morning, since they were sleeping
on heaps of straw.
This poor man came and asked for some straw to make a bed for
his new child. How well-off Akiva and Rochel felt when they
saw that someone had even less than they.
On the other hand in spiritual matters, the Meiri suggests
that we look at those above us. He says not to look too high,
only one notch up. As we explained above, once we have
achieved that level, then we can aim one step higher. As long
as we always observe and envy those at levels slightly above
us, we will be awakened to new possibilities of spiritual
achievement. In doing so, we will hopefully develop into the
best that we can be.
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