And Rachel saw that she did not bear a child for Yaakov and Rachel was jealous of her sister… (Breishis 30:1)
And Rachel was jealous of her sister: She was jealous of her good deeds and she therefore declared, “If it wouldn’t be that she was more righteous than I, she would not merit children.” (Rashi)
The verse tells us that Rachel was jealous of her sister. Can we not assume that jealousy is a ruinous attitude? How do know that she was only jealous of her sister’s good deeds?
It may be fairly simple to deduce from the fact that no action of malice resulted from her jealousy. She did not respond as Cain did to his brother’s success. Not a single verse intimates that she butchered her sister’s Shaitel or called her bad names behind her back or anything like that. What happened with that powerful emotion called “jealousy” that drove one man to kill his brother so early in human history? It’s obviously not a feeling that can be easily assuaged, once it takes grip of a person. What did Rachel do differently than Cain?
The Sefer Chovos HaLevavos offers powerfully practical advice to avoid being brought to ruination by the bug of jealousy. One should try to enter into in the company of people who are materially less well off and of people who are spiritually superior. Let’s try to understand. After visiting a poor neighborhood or a hospital or a nursing home we will tend to feel grateful for the youth, health, and wealth that we possess, on whatever scale. Conversely, after being in the Yeshiva study hall for a period of time and seeing people with greater facility for learning making constant progress in personal growth, one might be inspired to try to do even more in that area as well.
Almost eight years ago, a good friend, David, had just gotten his first few tastes of Talmud in some classes he was hosting in his house. He’s a really decent fellow with a strong computer-like logic already installed in his bright mind. He naturally enjoyed the intellectual exercise of learning Talmud. Then it happened. Someone offered him, on a whim, an extra ticket to the Siyum HaShas -The completion of the Talmud accomplished every 7and ½ years based on learning two sides a page daily- every day without fail. He went. He scanned the room filled with 15,000 and more in one stadium, aware that another New York arena had about the same and there were even more. He asked the fellow he was with, “Did all these people learn the whole Talmud?” The answer he got was, “No, but a significant number probably did!”
That was enough. He left the hall that night determined to latch on with a ferocious tenacity to learn that page a day. This summer, 7 and ½ years later he was happily counted amongst those who completed the Talmud and now he’s going for a second time. What a difference it has made to him and his entire family! From where did the initial jolt come? Dare we say that this super accomplishment was borne of jealousy!
Observe how wise the advice of the Chovos HaLevavos. It counters the natural tendency of many to shop the world like a mall and observe lifestyles and things out of reach, leaving us frustrated and filled with envy. At the same time the world obsesses with the news of uglier and uglier behavior. Quietly, this habit anesthetizes our conscience and gives us temporarily an artificial sense of spiritual superiority as the moral ground around us sinks shockingly lower daily.
Much like the gun lobbyists likes to argue, “It is not guns that kill but people.” The instrument of destruction is not the object of blame but rather how it is employed. Jealousy, if harnessed brings out the best in men but left to chance – yields chaos. Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.