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27 Teves 5763 - January 1, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
A Middos Workshop: Waging War on Jealousy

Based on shiurim of Rav Dovid Siegel

The setting: a lovely day in the neighborhood park. Two young women who share a comfortable relationship meet, settle down onto a bench and begin chatting. They discuss the ins and outs of young married life and enjoy the pleasant spring afternoon. The conversation naturally drifts.

Sara: Did you hear about Rochel? You must have heard by now.

Leah: No, I don't think so. What's there to hear?

Sara: You didn't hear that she won the lottery? It's just amazing, she won millions! Isn't it wonderful?

Leah (whose former natural smile is replaced by a frozen one): Really? Are you sure? Yes . . . that's . . . just . . . wonderful.


What happened? Where is that pleasant spring afternoon? What has become of Leah's relaxed mood?

The green-eyed monster has struck again!

Jealousy, says Orchos Tzaddikim, is a branch of anger. And it is a midda that no one is completely free from. Shlomo Hamelech spoke about it in Koheles and said, "I saw all effort and all planning is but jealousy of one another."

Apparently, there is a natural tendency to compare what I have to that of others and to question why I lack things. Yet although jealousy is very common, it is a midda that can be overcome. But, how? Here is where we start.

The famous pious Reb Zusha of Anapola was once presented with a pertinent question. Imagine that you were given the opportunity to run the world for twenty-four hours. You have every tool, every experience and opportunity available to you to manipulate as you wish. What would you do?

Think for a minute. What would you do? How would you change things? (Bear in mind that Reb Zusha was poverty-stricken and suffered from numerous other problems.)

Reb Zusha answered, "I would conduct the world exactly as it is!" Why?

Reb Zusha explained: Are we better than Hashem? Do we have more insight than He? Are we more concerned about revealing His Glory than He is? Obviously not. So then we must admit that we too would want the world to be run exactly as it is.

Basically, kinah stems from a lack of bitochon. We feel that we trust in Hashem -- but do we really?

We forget that Hashem cares about us more than we care about ourselves. We do not always feel that Hashem always is doing what is best for us. If we could implant these ideas into our hearts, we would never feel jealous. If we really thought into it, we would realize that we have exactly what Hashem knows is good for us.

"Good" is an elusive concept. Sometimes, life does not seem as good as we wish it would be. For example, we dream that life would be much better if our enemies would leave us alone. However, if Hashem wanted them destroyed, He would certainly do it! For whatever reason, we need this punishment and set-up. So, it must actually be good for us, even when it is quite difficult to understand.

Let's look back at our friends, Sara and Leah. What went wrong?

Jealousy has three steps. First, Leah feels that she wants what Rochel has. Second, she wonders why Rochel should have it. Finally, she thinks to herself, "It's not fair! She has it, and I don't!" Essentially, she is questioning Hashem's sense of fairness.

What, then, is fair?

Commonly, we feel that fairness is when everyone has the same possessions, equal portions, etc. But why should we have the same? The world's structure does not call for what we consider fair. She is she, and I am I. We are not the same, so we do not deserve the same.

Every person has an individual neshomoh, with its unique mission. Hashem gave each one of us a specific nature, with a unique corresponding combination of middos. Each neshomoh has the task of bringing kovod to Hashem, but no two people are expected to fulfill their mission in the same way. In fact, every person is given the talents, possessions, and circumstances that match his/her neshomoh's purpose in life.

Wealth is a typical area about which people feel jealousy. One often thinks: if I had all that money, I could do so much good with it. Did we ever consider that maybe this is not so?

We may be able to tolerate only a certain level of wealth before it goes to our head. Beyond that point we could develop an imbalance in our character. The fact that wealth is not part of my life may be part of my life's mission. Remember that anything which will not serve a purpose could, in fact, harm us.

To paraphrase the Chofetz Chaim's parable, if we beg Hashem to give us that which we covet of others, we may turn to the spiritual Doctor at the end of life and say, "Hashem, why did you give it to me when I asked for it?"

Rebbetzin Sternbuch, who lived part of her life in poverty and the other in wealth, advised her grandchildren that if they are forced to choose between poverty and wealth, they should choose poverty. She explained that wealth is not an easy nisoyon.

Someone may question why his life seems so much more challenging than that of his neighbor. It may seem unfair to him that the neighbor has a larger, more luxurious home. In order to explain this discrepancy, he could consider that Hashem has blessed him with a more sturdy character, while his friend may be more sensitive to heat or less tolerant of noise and clutter. A roomy, air- conditioned, six-bedroom house may be a necessity for his friend, but not for him. And if the neighbor were to live in his lifestyle, he might be in danger of a mental breakdown.

Hashem knows each person's makeup and mission, and His sense of fairness far surpasses ours. I receive what I need, and she receives what she needs. That is fair, isn't it?


Many of our feelings of jealousy stem from a feeling of entitlement, a sense that we deserve more. This reflects our lack of contentment. We may actually feel content, but our complacency suddenly vanishes when we see our friend having more than we. We suddenly have a void and have thereby created our own discontent.

HaRav Moshe Shapiro once explained that the sinful act of eating from the Eitz Hadaas was rooted in possession. The yetzer hora cloaked himself in the desire that everything in this world should become part of the person. Odom was forbidden to eat from only one tree. He had a whole, luscious garden to choose from, but he felt compelled to eat from that forbidden tree. It had to become his!

The root of kinah is the feeling that "I must have it." But there is a tremendous error in this way of thinking, namely the belief that "I deserve it." We tend to feel that we are entitled to "100%," and that if we have less, we were shortchanged. But actually, we are entitled to "0"!

True, Hashem gives us life. He provides us with food, clothing and shelter. But anything beyond that point is sheer bonus. If we compare what we have to point zero, i.e. life's bare necessities, we will realize how much we truly have.

Let us consider some of the bonuses Hashem grants us. Look at the shiny tiled or stone floors. Are those a necessity? Wouldn't a dirt floor do the trick? In fact, for thousands of years, most people got by with dirt floors! What a brochoh to have such smooth, clean flooring.

And what about cushioned chairs and orthopedic mattresses? Are they really necessities? What can we say about the myriad of foods available at the grocery now? Most people lived without all these luxuries throughout the ages. Yet to us they seem to be absolute necessities!

The Tur discusses the situation in which one must choose between eating a weekday-like meal on Shabbos or begging from the community. He writes that this was part of the life that he personally lived. These were questions he grappled with daily.

Let us ask ourselves, "Who deserves more: me or the Tur?" This question should help us realize how much more we receive than what we deserve. Why then am I so disturbed when my friend has one more Shabbos outfit than I?

What we are really saying is that we do not start from zero. We take all of Hashem's continuous favors and kindness for granted and expect much more.

When HaRav Leizer Levine zt'l was approaching his nineties, he became bedridden. He shared with his son that when he was in his eighties, he thought to himself, "Boruch Hashem I can go to shul on my own, and I do not need a cane."

When he began needing a cane, he thought, "Boruch Hashem I only need it for walking long distances, but not for short walks."

When the cane became necessary for even small distances, he thought, "Boruch Hashem I can walk, and I'm not in a wheelchair."

When he became bound to a wheelchair, he thought, "Boruch Hashem I can move around."

When he became bedridden, he told his son, "Yes, I am stuck in bed, but Boruch Hashem I can sit up."

Do we think this way -- or do we consider walking as a given?

Here we have a key to free us from our chains of jealousy. Consider all the favors Hashem does for us on a continuous basis: shoes, clothes, health, sight, light and much more. If we were to jot down all the "extras," a whole notebook would be insufficient.

The morning brochos grant us a daily opportunity to appreciate the gifts Hashem constantly bestows on us: pokei'ach ivrim, matir assurim, zokeif kefufim, hameichin mitz'adei gover, etc. The Chofetz Chaim spent close to half an hour each night thanking Hashem for His favors.

Sincere reflection of Hashem's millions of kindnesses will instill us with Rav Leizer Levine's appreciation for life. I start with zero. I am alive and functioning, which in itself is enough to be grateful. All the more so, given all the luxuries I currently enjoy.

In conclusion, developing feelings of indebtedness will in itself greatly diminish jealousy. Continuous involvement in appreciating one's own gifts will leave little time or need to compare our possessions with others. And contemplating that Hashem gives everyone exactly what we need for our unique mission will ultimately free us from the grip of jealousy, the "green-eyed monster."

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