Jealousy: An Obstacle to Happiness

Jealousy is a very natural human trait that we acquire at a very young age. Most people seem to feel that it’s perfectly normal to have jealousy towards another human being. Western society accepts this as a fact of life and we rarely hear of anyone speaking of the detriments of carrying this very negative character trait.

The Bible admits to this human weakness by relating stories of the jealousy between Cain and Abel, Joseph and his brothers, and how King Saul’s jealousy of David caused him to lose his mind. The Rabbis in the Mishna of Ethics of Our Fathers, cites jealousy as one of three things that remove a person from this world. (The other two are lust and honor seeking.)

There is a great emphasis in classic rabbinic literature, that we work on our Midot, or character. Some people gravitate to the teachings of the Chassidic Masters, while others turn to books connected to the Mussar movement of the eighteenth century. Both teach the importance of looking at ourselves and the need for self improvement. Sometimes these books give us a kind of “pep talk” encouraging us that no matter how far one falls, he can pick himself up and succeed in life. The teachings of the rabbis were designed to help a person achieve real happiness, peace of mind, and contentment.

Jealousy presents the greatest obstacle towards achieving that happiness. There are times when people obsess about another person. It might even begin with sibling rivalry but it continues when one does not know how to be grateful for his own lot in life. There is always going to be someone out there who is wealthier, smarter, or possessing greater physical beauty than us. If we focus on others, and forget to take a step back to count our own blessings, we will be choosing misery over joy. There is always going to be someone who has it worse than we do as well.

The ideal that the Rabbis speak of is that we are to view our lives in a positive manner. Even more than that, we are to feel that at this moment G-d has provided us with everything that we need. The Maharal of Prague wrote that when one feels this way, he develops an intense love for G-d.

There is a prayer that is found in certain prayer books at the end of the Amida that is a request that we should have the proper perspective that we not be jealous of others, and others should not be jealous of us. It might be a good idea to start saying that prayer and to make a point of removing jealousy from our hearts. In its place, we should sincerely wish for the success of all those we come in contact with, and learn to truly be happy when we hear of the good fortune of others. Simply put, if we cannot overcome our jealous nature, we will never find happiness.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for nearly twenty years. He has been teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach, Old Katamon, Jerusalem, for the past twelve years. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles.