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Eaten Up with Envy

Eaten Up with Envy

God didn't forget about you. If you were meant to have that home, spouse, career -- you'd have it.


My kids have a book "The Berenstain Bears and the Green-Eyed Monster" in which the young bear cubs confront their tendency towards jealousy.

No question about it. Jealously is one ugly, destructive creature who's more than willing to devour us if we're not careful. It's a creature that requires constant vigilance and battle. A creature so pervasive and damaging that it is the only emotion to get star billing in the Ten Commandments. (The Berenstain Bears don't mention that part).

Envy is so distorting, so lacking in perspective and judgment, our sages warn us that jealousy is one of the negative traits that take us out of the world (Ethics of the Fathers, 4:28). (The Berenstain Bears don't cite that reference either.)

What do we envy? You name it. Other people's spouses -- she's thinner, a better cook, a more competent mother. He's more successful, kinder, a more involved father. We envy other people's children. Their jobs. Their talents. The honor accorded them. And sometimes, if we're lucky, we envy other people's virtues.

Unfortunately it's only in the areas where there are real relationships to damage that we experience genuine jealousy.

Who do we envy? Although every other magazine profiles the lives of the rich and famous -- the Hollywood stars, the movie moguls, perhaps some powerful business executives, I don't think that really excites our jealousy. We can't imagine living like that. It's like a peasant who sees a princess; he wouldn't even desire her for his wife because she is completely out of reach.

We most often envy our friends. Why did their son get the solo in school choir and mine didn't? Why did her husband get a promotion and not mine? How does she manage to look so put-together and I don't? Unfortunately it's only in the areas where there are real relationships to damage that we experience genuine jealousy.

Instead of promoting closeness and unity, envy leads to animosity and distance. It frequently leads to lashon hara (malicious slander). Since we begrudge them their good, we end up disparaging them. It could even lead to acts of violence.

And why? Did they take something from you? Is there a finite amount of good in the world? It's not like the Almighty has a giant chocolate cake and erred in determining how large to cut each piece. "Sorry only crumbs for you."

The Almighty gives each of us exactly what's appropriate. If we were meant to have that home, spouse, child, career -- we'd have it. He didn't forget about us. And we won't get more by stomping our feet, crying and throwing a tantrum.

Our challenge is to make the most of what we have; to realize that the Almighty gives us what we need, and that we need what He gives us. Out goal is to best play the cards we've been dealt. There are poor people who spend every cent strategically and give charity thoughtfully and there are wealthy people who squander their resources and miss the opportunity to help others. The achievement is in the doing not the having.

Sounds very nice, but how do we battle that instinctive, visceral, negative reaction we may have when we hear about the new good awarded a friend? Marriage, children, the "right" schools, "perfect" grandchildren?

Begin by giving. Give to the person we are jealous of. Since giving always deepens caring, it will change our focus. We will think more about their good and it will be easier to wish them success.

Think about our attitude towards our children. Since we love them we only want their good. If they're smarter than us, more attractive, more accomplished, not only are we not jealous, we're thrilled. We need to transfer that attitude to our friends and acquaintances.

Count our blessings. Hard to do when feeling put upon and grumpy, but crucial nevertheless. We are not hurt in any way by the good the Almighty has given others, only by our attitude towards it.

The Torah recognizes one positive use of jealousy - be envious of the virtues in others.

When we see our children jealous of each other, we find it both disturbing and silly; disturbing that they should be experiencing that pain, and silly because we know how much love we have to go around and the unique and special feelings we have for each of them. We also know that we don't always give them all exactly the same thing at the same time because that's not what they need.

When the Almighty looks down and sees His children consumed with envy, He feels just as we do. It's silly, it's disturbing, there's plenty of love to go around and every one gets what they particularly need.

The Torah recognizes one positive use of jealousy - be envious of the virtues in others. This is an area where we can make changes and use envy to spur us on to greater character growth. We can strive to emulate the exemplary actions and strengths of our friends.

Every time we feel jealous, let's think of some small way we can grow. Then we'll be so busy that the green-eyed monster will slink away in disgrace, searching for more fertile territory. Don't let him take up residence in yours.

February 12, 2005

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Visitor Comments: 23

(23) Anonymous, January 16, 2017 11:58 AM

Envy vs. admiration

Sometimes I feel jealous that I person has a skill I lack. For the past 2 years I have been learning to read Hebrew and many people are better at it than I am. What to do? I need to keep on working to improve this skill. Re: Material wealth. There are people who will always have more money and live in a bigger house than I do. However, there are people who have less and there always will be. Nobody can know exactly why some people seem to have been born under a lucky star. However, we do know that one's fortune can change for better or worse. I once knew someone who was a real golden boy. He actually got a promotion when someone died! (I'm not kidding.) He also became very ill when he turned 50. Again, nobody knows why these things happened to him, but there we are.

(22) Anonymous, August 2, 2012 12:18 AM

Thank you, this article has calmed me.

Thank you for your article. I searched on an article about envy, because I am currently experiencing this feeling. A close friend of mine recently got a new job without even looking, while I have been searching for months. I felt miserable, envious that she was offered a job, and I could not find one. I felt I was not adequate enough, smart enough,but I have come to terms in thinking the creator has other plans for me. She deserves it, I helped her complete that application. I will have the perfect job for me, in my field when I am ready. The creator has not forgot about me this was a lesson I needed to learn. There is more than enough love, good to go around!! Blessings!

(21) Cleo, November 12, 2011 8:22 PM

Doctor Who episode "The Next Doctor"

This lesson of trying to emulate those with superior virtue reminds me of the Doctor Who episode when someone lived his life as if he were a super hero but really he was just a nice guy so he took it well when he realized he had been mistaken.

(20) Anonymous, January 5, 2009 4:10 PM

Envy and Divine Purpose

I have been reading articles about envy and I think this one was very helpful. I am also grateful to the comments made on here. I have come to the realization that I am experiencing envy. I didn't realize it until I noticed how sad, sick, depressed, and miserable I felt. And yes, I even talked unkindly about the person trying to point out their faults--as if the person was not justified in receiving the gift. I thought I was not envious of other people until I felt it towards my older sister. I have been single for a very long time and I have been attempting, often struggling with trying to find a mate. And here my sister comes--she's tying her shoe and her "soul mate" appears standing above her. What's worse is that she can't stop talking about how much she is in love--telling me people don't understand what love is until they have felt it with another person. I guess I'm not in the club! It was hard because it was a secret and she was confiding in me only which felt burdensome. The stake felt like it kept being driven deeper and deeper into my heart as I talked with her. But I was the one putting the stick in my heart. I think I made a shift when I realized I had a choice. Was I going to make this ruin me or take me closer to my divine virtues? As much as she could have acted more sensitive to me and I could point out her faults, I still had to choose love over envy. It is so true that there is abundance everywhere and what I need and want will come to me in good time. I was believing I lacked things and that even worse, the world hated me and I am not loved! So, I started writing down what I was grateful for and soon enough my heart was opening and I felt inner peace. It turns out that, though my sister doesn't admit it, there are things I have that she wishes she had. She's going to have to work on that herself! I was so glad that I dealt with the pain and made the choice of good--and I believe that there are blessings in that. I know that it will come up, but I My heart is purified and I become a better person. And in the long run, that really what life is about.

(19) Anonymous, January 3, 2009 3:08 PM

thank you

Thank you for writing your article. I find it, and the comments following it, truly inspirational and a lesson we all need to be reminded of. Here is a thought which I got from a book called Zemirot from Livnot, that has helped me when I feel jealous. "Love can be either selfish or altrustic. When I love selfishly, I may become impatient, judging the relationship by how well it satisfies my own needs. Unselfish love, on the other hand, challanges me to do what is best for the other person, even when it conflicts with my immediate desires. Sometimes people love in order to recieve something in return, and sometimes people love in order to recieve love in return. But the highest form of loving is the love which is purely for the sake of the beloved."

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