The Mishna (Ethics of Our Fathers, chapter four) tells us that 3 things “drive a person out of the world”, or, in other words, are self destructive.
The first one?
You know the feeling and I know the feeling. We see someone else that has more than us, more successful than us, has a better life than us.
And inside, we feel this little feeling, the little voice that tells us “why can’t I have it, too” or “why does he/she is so lucky”.
During the summer, is it customary to learn every Shabbat one chapter of Ethics of Our Fathers. This week we learn the forth chapter, that includes the Mishna quoted above. And interestingly, this week’s Torah portion is also discussing this exact topic: envy.
Korach, Moshe’s cousin, was very envious. Two of his cousins – Moshe and Aaron – were chosen by G-d as leaders of the Jewish people. Why can’t he be a leader, too? He led a rebellion against them.
The rebellion was a utter failure and he and his cohorts vanished.
Envy is self destructive, indeed!
So what can we do when feel envious?
There are two “recipes” that can help us when our envy is starting to take over our life.
ONE: to remind ourselves that we don’t see the entire picture.
Here is a self-evident truth: no one has a perfect life.
(Oh, and here is another one: almost everyone tries to pretend they do!)
When we look at just one part of one’s life, it’s only a small fraction of their lives that we see. We don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors, we don’t know what’s going on deep in their hearts, we simply don’t know.
Once we will know, it’s very likely we won’t be envious at all!
TWO: as Moshe was telling his rebelling cousin, “it was not my choice to become a leader – it’s G-ds”.
If someone has something, it’s because G-d gave him or her that something.
If I don’t have something, it’s because G-d didn’t give me that something.
Maybe He didn’t give it to me because I don’t need it. Maybe there is another reason. Maybe He will give it to me soon.
But my focus and energy would be towards G-d, not towards the person who has what I don’t.
Finally, sometimes being envy is actually a GOOD thing.
Recently I read a report by a Chabad Rabbi who I know and admire. The report detailed all of the accomplishments of his Chabad House in the past few months.
I read it and couldn’t help myself. I felt that feeling of envy starting to go through me. I was really so envious of everything he accomplished.
I tried reminding myself that Chabad of Hackensack is open only for 2 years, while his Chabad is open for over 20 years. That he has a staff of 12 employees while we are nowhere near to that number…
But nothing helped.
Then, I remembered the phrase from the Talmud: “when teachers are jealous of each other, it will increase wisdom”.
Good envy can lead to us being more driven.
If we see someone that is more charitable or more knowledgeable than us, it will drive us to do the same and to try to achieve more.
So I allowed the feeling of envy to take me over, and said – “please G-d, allow me to harness this feeling so we can do even more and touch more lives”.
So to sum it up, envy can be your friend or your worst enemy. Treat it with caution and harness it when you can!