To Achieve Your Goals and not Cause Jealousy
Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov all suffered from success-induced jealous
reactions from the local populations where they lived. Avraham is recognized
as the “prince of God in our midst” and yet is begrudged a grave plot to
bury Sarah. Yitzchak is sent away from the kingdom of Avimelech because “you
have grown too great from us.” And in this week’s parsha, Yaakov is told by
Lavan that everything that Yaakov owns is really the property of Lavan.
The blessings of God and the promise that He made to protect the patriarchs
and matriarchs of Israel save them from their neighbors, relatives and
enemies. However, this very success and achievements of this small family,
as per God’s promise and against all odds and opposition, raises the hatred
and jealousy of their neighbors. No matter that the neighbors themselves,
such as Avimelech and Lavan benefit mightily from the achievements of
Yitzchak and Yaakov.
The rabbis of the Talmud taught us that “hatred destroys rational thought
and behavior.” So, instead of gratitude and friendship, the accomplishments
of the patriarchs and matriarchs only bring forth greed, jealousy,
persecution and always the threat of violence hovers in the background. All
efforts to maintain a low profile and to mollify Lavan result only in
increased bigotry and hatred.
It is not for naught that the Pesach hagada makes Lavan a greater enemy to
the survival of the Jewish people than even the Pharaoh of Egypt. But almost
all of the enemies of the Jews over the centuries suffer from the same basic
moral faults regarding the Jews: ingratitude, jealousy and greed. These are
all revealed to us in this week’s parsha.
Someone mentioned to me that perhaps if we maintained a lower profile in the
world, didn’t receive so many Nobel prize awards, and were less influential
in the fields of finance and the media, anti-Semitism would decrease. “What
if” is a difficult field of thought to pursue intelligently.
There is no question that the world and all humankind would be by far the
poorer if the Jews purposely withheld their energy, creativity and
intelligence from contributing to human civilization. And there certainly is
no guarantee that the world would like us any more than it does now if we
were less successful and prominent.
The mere fact that God blessed the patriarchs with the blessings of success
and influence indicates that this is His desire for us. The Torah
specifically states that all of the nations and families of the earth will
benefit and be blessed through us. So in our case less would not necessarily
be more. Yet we were enjoined from flouting our success in the faces of
those less fortunate than us. Modesty in behavior and deportment is an
important partner to success.
This is also a lesson that our father Yaakov intended to teach us. We are
not allowed to rein in our talents and achievements. But we are certainly
bidden to rein in our egos and bluster. That is also an important Jewish
trait that should be a foundation in our lives.
Rabbi Berel Wein