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3 Adar I 5763 - February 5, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
A Middos Workshop: Waging War With Jealousy (Part 2)

Based on shiurim of Rav Dovid Siegel

Now that we have presented several issues of our Middos Workshop, this may be a good time to address a basic question: What are middos?

They are usually translated as character traits, but this translation is not quite accurate. More literally, "middos" means measurements and, in fact, that is what they really are.

So far, all the character traits we have discussed have a proper measurement. We generally try to eliminate ga'ava, but we now know that there is a time and place for it. Even the terrible trait of anger has certain instances when it is proper. In essence, every midda has both a positive and a negative channel.

What about the midda that we analyzed in the last issue, and which we will elaborate on now? The lowly trait most people would never admit to in public: jealousy. Is there a proper measure for it? If so, when is jealousy an appropriate response?

Shlomo Hamelech says in Mishlei (23:17), "Al yikaneh libcho bechato'im, ki im beyir'as Hashem kol hayom. Do not let your heart be envious -- except for fear of Hashem, the entire day." The Midrash quotes this verse to explain the Torah's reference to Rochel Imeinu's jealousy. "Vatekanei Rochel ba'achosoh -- and Rochel envied her sister." Rochel saw that Leah had taken the lead in building Yaakov's house and she felt jealous.

Jealous? Let us not forget that this is the same Rochel who gave up her rightful husband in order not to embarrass her older sister. To take the above verse as an expression of Rochel's animosity towards her sister is an inconsistent and unfair view of our righteous Rochel Imeinu. Obviously, this envy was not the lowly feeling with which we usually associate it.

Rashi explains that Rochel was jealous of Leah's good deeds. According to Rochel's reasoning, the fact that Leah bore children indicated that she deserved to, while she, Rochel, did not. This was the point that Rochel envied: Leah's righteousness. In light of the above, the Vilna Gaon explains the above verse from Mishlei in the following manner: "We should busy ourselves all day with being jealous of those who have more yiras Shomayim than we."

In simple terms, jealousy is my desire for something that my friend has. In most cases, this desire is not acceptable. That is to say, Yiddishkeit does not look approvingly at wanting what others have.

HaRav Mottel Katz zt'l of Telshe maintained that we apply our middos in a backwards way. Hashem blessed us with two conflicting attitudes: contentment (histapkus) and the lack thereof. We are generally content with our spiritual achievements but rarely satisfied with our material circumstances. HaRav Mottel zt'l said we have our priorities upside- down. We should always be satisfied with our material circumstances. But when it comes to our spiritual achievements, we should never be content with what we have done. While the concept of mistapek bemu'ot is commendable when it comes to the material side of life, it is entirely inappropriate for our spirituality.

The difficulty in this is that we naturally desire more physicality, and are easily satisfied with our spiritual status quo. But when it comes down to it, after 120, we will not take anything material with us. So, if we follow our natural tendencies, we will eventually go nowhere.

Conversely, those who aim towards perfection are always looking to fulfill their ultimate potential. But what is that potential? How much can we actually achieve?

Although we do not really know ourselves, we can get a sense of our limits when we see what others have achieved. Looking at great people's accomplishments broadens the scope of our own potential. If I see Reb Ploni davening with intense concentration, this proves that such levels of kavonoh are attainable. If Mrs. Almoni speaks calmly to her children even when five small ones are screaming around her, and three older ones are playing tag in the kitchen, then I know that such self-control is in the realm of possibility. If so, then I can also aim for these lofty goals.

Chazal tell us: "Illulei shekino Avrohom beMalkitzedek, lo hoyoh koneh shomayim vo'oretz. Had Avrohom not been jealous of Malkitzedek, he would not have acquired heaven and earth for Hashem." Chazal explain that Avrohom Ovinu asked Malkitzedek (Shem) why he merited to go out of Noah's ark. Malkitzedek answered that he had done tzedokoh.

Avrohom questioned him, "But there were no poor people on the ark."

Malkitzedek replied, "No, I did tzedokoh with animals and birds."

From this reply, Avrohom deduced that if Malkitzedek was spared because of sustaining animals, Avrohom would be even more protected for sustaining people created in Hashem's image. Immediately, Avrohom set up his famous eishel, the original soup kitchen, in Be'er Sheva.

Malkitzedek's actions were certainly not Avrohom Ovinu's first introduction to lovingkindness. He already had a four- door tent open all day and night for guests of all kinds. But he applied Malkitzedek's lesson to himself and enhanced his own hospitality.

Rabbeinu Yonah states that our Ovos did not go beyond their natural capacity. They simply used all their potential to reveal the greatest degree of kovod Shomayim.

Chazal enlighten us about the great care Avrohom Ovinu showed his guests. Every person, beggars included, was treated royally and served delicacies fit for a king. When people saw Avrohom going to such great lengths for everyone, they understood that Hashem's example was motivating him. They realized that if this is what a human being can achieve, how full of chesed Hashem must be.

In retrospect, had Avrohom not envied Malkitzedek's level of benevolence, he would not have revealed the degree of kovod Shomayim that he did, and he would not have fulfilled his potential.

Now, back to Rochel Imeinu. Rochel could have resigned herself to the fact that she was barren. But what motivated her to change her situation was that Leah had already overcome her barrenness. When Rochel observed that Leah was blessed with children, Rochel reasoned that she needed to develop herself further. Again, jealousy acted as the motivation for self-improvement.

We tend to underestimate how much we can truly achieve. Sometimes, it takes someone else to help us realize the spiritual levels we can reach. We should always appreciate those pangs of jealousy and let them press us towards greater accomplishments.

One word of caution: Beware of stepping beyond the limit. If I notice my neighbor involving himself in an area that is out of my league, I should not approach it. Positive jealousy can only motivate us within the range of our capabilities. Remember that we are not aiming to be like others. Our kinah should merely prompt us to achieve a bit more than we are at present, and to be what we can be. Later on, we can take a step further, and then another. But if our jealousy leads us into a depression, it is not leading us down the right path. We must be realistic.

So in what way does jealousy practically benefit us? Why does Mishlei urge us to devote ourselves to this midda? The message of jealousy is not to be complacent, but to always aim for greater spiritual heights.

Someone may argue that he already has a satisfactory position in Olom Habo. He may say to himself, "I do lots of mitzvos, and I'm generally a good Yid, so why exert myself to be the best? Third best is also OK."

Regarding this question, the Ramchal compares this to our physical world. Let us say I grew up together with my friend Yossi. Suddenly, Yossi is elevated to a position of authority over me. I cannot handle it. "What makes him better than me? We grew up together!"

If I have this feeling in this world, how much greater will my feeling of regret be when I see my peers in higher positions in the next world. Bearing this in mind, one should push himself to reach the spiritual levels of those around him. Once again, jealousy can motivate us to fulfill our potential.

Orchos Tzaddikim tells us that even if we find a rosho, a wicked person with only one redeeming quality, we should be jealous of that midda and integrate it into ourselves. Am I jealous of him? No, just of that one trait.

Even Eisov Horosho can be an object of our envy. Rabbon Shimon ben Gamliel said, "My kibbud ov vo'eim is exemplary, but I have not reached the kibbud ov vo'eim of Eisov. Eisov served his father in kingly robes, but I do not."

It is not that Rabbon Shimon ben Gamliel wanted to be in Eisov's shoes, but that that one outstanding quality nagged at him. Although he felt that he could not actually serve his parents in kingly robes, he could try to give them the royal treatment that Eisov gave his father.

If we can grow to new spiritual heights from observations of a rosho, how much more can we develop from our perceptions of great people.

The Meiri advises us that in matters of gashmiyus, we should look at those below us. In this way, we will always be satisfied with our physical situation. We learn this lesson from Eliyahu Hanovi, who disguised himself as a poor beggar and knocked on the door of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva and his wife Rochel were so impoverished that she had to pick out the straw from her hair every morning, since they were sleeping on heaps of straw.

This poor man came and asked for some straw to make a bed for his new child. How well-off Akiva and Rochel felt when they saw that someone had even less than they.

On the other hand in spiritual matters, the Meiri suggests that we look at those above us. He says not to look too high, only one notch up. As we explained above, once we have achieved that level, then we can aim one step higher. As long as we always observe and envy those at levels slightly above us, we will be awakened to new possibilities of spiritual achievement. In doing so, we will hopefully develop into the best that we can be.

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