3 Tammuz 5782

The Consequences of Envy

To hear the recorded message: https://youtu.be/Tx8DDiQs5UA

A rich man once said: “People always want you to do well, but never better than them.” We have also heard the expression “the grass is always greener on the other side“. There is a metaphor about a free bird wanting food from a caged bird. The caged bird says, “You see my food, but you don’t see my captivity.” What we see reflected here is what we call “envy”.

It is said that on the second day of Creation, when God divided the waters in two, placing a part of the waters in the heavens and leaving the other part on earth, the waters below complained and said that they also wanted to go up to the sublime heavens instead of remaining on the lowly earth. God calmed them down by telling them that in the future, the salt that was in them would be offered on the altar along with the sacrifices. According to this, salt represents the characteristic called envy, because it is offered as a result of the jealousy that the lower waters felt towards the upper waters.

In this parashah we find the episode of Korach’s rebellion. Korach instigates a mutiny against the leadership of Moshe and the priesthood of Aaron. Datan and Aviram and 250 other distinguished members of the community join in the mutiny. It is difficult to establish the exact causes that generated this rebellion, and it may be that Korach wanted to protest Aaron’s inauguration as the Cohen Gadol (High Priest).

As the “journey” through the desert proceeded, a series of “ill-fated” situations occurred that demoralized the people, resulting in outbreaks of protests. These could have led Korach to set himself up as the spokesman for the entire congregation and rise up against the leadership of Moses, accusing him of remaining insensitive to the “suffering” of the people. Korach most probably felt a strong jealousy over Moshe’s position which led to his self-destruction as well as his group.

The Torah describes Moshe as “…a very modest man, more than any man on the face of the Earth.” (Num. 12:3), so we can deduce that he became a leader not because of his competence, nor his own power. His leadership was given to him by the Creator who chose him almost against his own will. So, Korach, motivated by jealousy and by rebelling against Moshe was rebelling against God Himself.

If we have ever been envious of someone else’s “good luck” or have been overcome by someone else’s success, we know that it can rob us of peace of our mind and our happiness. The First Commandment says: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your strength, with all your heart…” and the last (but not least) says: “You shall not covet…”.

If we believe that God is good and that He is the Master of the Universe, what drives us to be angry about what others may receive from the Creator? The triggers for envy can vary from one person to another, but in general, this occurs when, consciously or unconsciously, we feel a lack, we feel fear, a need to control or even a lack of motivation. All of these factors are related to a lack of faith, emunah and trust, bitachon.

Envy makes us see reality in a distorted way and a misinterpretation of reality makes us envious. When we measure our success based on what we have, we cannot be calm and happy, because there will always be someone who has more, implying that we are not worth as much as them.

If God tells us in the Tenth Commandment that we should not covet, there must be a way to put it into practice. How is it done? Some explain that the answer lies in the commandment itself: “Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”  If we analyze the verse, an obvious question springs to mind, since it concludes by saying that one should not covet “anything that belongs to your neighbor”, why does it make a list of specific things? Wouldn’t they already be included in “everything that belongs to your neighbor”? One explanation might be that the way to stop envying someone for something they have, is to put things into perspective. Would you like to have everything he has? What you see may be enviable, but what do you know about the things in his life that are unseen?

Managing envy requires an opposite pattern of behavior based upon personal strength, modesty, and humility, that is, a change of attitude that will allow us to live with the reality of not having what we want, right now. This is in addition to allowing ourselves to recognize that there are others who deserve the achievements that we long for. Hence this relationship with Emunah (faith) and Bitachon (trust). We must change our perspective of what it is to “possess” or to “have”.

In Hebrew there is no verb “to have”. It is because in reality what we “have” is not ours. Something exists, that is, with me “today”, but I am not the owner, rather I am a partner with the Creator to make what I “have” fulfill a function in the world. This perspective is very difficult to apply but it will help us to be a lot humbler.

Jealousy (envy) hinders a person’s ability to perceive Divine Providence. If we really believe that God has calculated everything down to the last detail, there would be no room for envy. How can we be jealous of what another has when we know that God decides what a person needs and what he deserves? One way to work on our emunah is by uprooting any feelings of envy or desire to be honored. This is a very difficult task to achieve because most of the things we do in life are somehow connected to some type of personal aggrandizement. However, being aware of the detrimental effects of these negative traits is a big step in the right direction. Let us know our place and respect those who deserve respect; trust that God is good and does everything for our good. This is the lesson of Korach’s rebellion.

Shabbat Shalom!!!

Alejandro Alvarado