The 'Right' Kind of Jealousy
During its outline of the various korbanot (sacrifices), the Torah forbids bringing offerings of leaven and honey.(1) It then immediately tells us that, in contrast, we must include salt in all the meal-offerings.(2) What is the difference between salt with honey and leaven, to the extent that salt is obligatory, whilst the other two substances are forbidden? The commentaries point out that there is great symbolism in the sacrifices, and that each of these three substances represent various character traits - by analyzing their symbolism we can answer this question.
The Sefer HaChinuch(3) writes that honey represents base physical desire (taiva) because it is a sweet tasting food. The prohibition from adding honey to the offerings teaches us that one should refrain from chasing after sweet tasting foods, and should focus only on eating food that is necessary for his sustenance and well-being. The Chinuch continues that leaven is symbolic of arrogance because it rises up. With regard to arrogance, he brings the verse in Proverbs that states: "The haughty of heart is an abomination to God." (4)
The Chasam Sofer continues in the same vein as the Chinuch with regard to honey and leaven. He then discusses the symbolism of salt. He alludes to the saying of the Sages that provides the background behind the obligation to include salt with the meal offerings. On the second day of Creation, God separated the waters into two, bringing part of the water up to the Heavens and leaving part on the Earth. The lower waters complained that they also wanted to go up to the exalted Heavens rather than remain on the lowly Earth. God appeased them by telling them that in the future the salt that is found in the water would, in the future, be offered up on the Altar along with the sacrifices.(5)
Based on this Midrash, the Chasam Sofer explains that salt represents the trait of jealousy because it is offered as a result of the jealousy of the lower waters towards the upper waters. He continues that honey, leaven, and salt represent the three basic negative traits; kina (jealousy), kavod (desire for honor) and taiva.(6) However, he argues that jealousy is very different from the other two: There is no place for them in the Tabernacle, and, by extension, in all Avodat HaShem (Divine Service). Therefore, there is no place for honey and leaven with the sacrifices. He writes that jealousy, in contrast, does have a place in serving God. We see this from the Gemara that says, 'kinat sofrim tarbeh chachma' - jealousy amongst those learning causes an increase in wisdom.(7) This means that there is a benefit to jealousy in the spiritual realm because it can motivate a person to grow in his spirituality when he sees others performing on a higher level than himself. In this vein he explains that the jealousy of the lower waters for the upper waters was an example of a valid type of jealousy - the lower waters wanted to be as close to God as the upper waters. Their reward was the salt that would be offered up. Accordingly, this salt remains as an eternal reminder of the praiseworthy form of jealousy.(8)
The Chasam Sofer's explanation teaches us that when the generally negative trait of jealousy is used in the right way, it can enhance one's service of God. It is instructive to analyze the difference between jealousy in the spiritual realm and jealousy in the physical realm. It seems that there are two main differences: Firstly, the motivation of the two types of jealousy varies greatly. Jealousy in the material realm often has a particularly abhorrent aspect - it is not limited to wanting the same things the other person, rather the jealous person wants that the other person to not have that thing as well. Indeed, the Torah prohibition that relates to jealousy, loh tachmod(9) (do not covet), only applies when Reuven wants to have Shimon's item itself, whereas if he only wants the same item as Shimon, there is no Torah prohibition.(10) In contrast, jealousy in the spiritual realm is only acceptable when the jealous party does not begrudge his fellow of his success, rather he uses his friend's success as a tool to help motivate himself to achieve similar heights. However, if he begrudges his friend his success then his jealousy is again considered totally unacceptable because it is clearly not driven by pure motivations.
The second difference is brought out by the Ibn Ezra's explanation of the mitzvah of loh tachmod. He offers an analogy of a peasant who desires to marry a princess. The peasant should realize that she is simply not in his domain, and that he has no right to expect to gain her hand in marriage. So too, each person is allotted exactly what they need in the material world. Anything that someone else owns is totally irrelevant to them and outside of their domain. They have no reason to desire it, because God provides each person with exactly what they need.(11) The reasoning of the Ibn Ezra only applies to jealousy in the material realm, because no amount of physical effort will alter a person's possessions - that is completely in God's Hands. The one area in which God stands back, so-to-speak, is spirituality. In the spiritual realm there is no predestined limit to what a person can achieve. It is completely dependent upon his own free will. Accordingly, it is not fruitless to desire to emulate someone else's spiritual achievement; through personal effort, a person can attain more in the spiritual realm.
Bearing these two points in mind - that kinat sofrim induces a person to emulate his fellow without begrudging him his own success; and that one has the right to try to attain more than he presently has - we now have a deeper understanding of the role of jealousy in our lives. The Chasam Sofer teaches us that, whilst in many circumstances, it is a negative trait, when utilized in the right way, it can help us grow closer to God, and in that way emulate the lower waters whose burning desire to get close to God bore fruits.
1. The honey referred to here is not bee honey, rather it is the sweet nectar that is produced by fruits. 2. Vayikra, 2:11-13.
3. Parshas Vayikra, Mitzvo 117.
4. Mishlei, 16:5.
5. Rashi, Vayikra, 2:13. See Gur Aryeh, Sifsei Chachamim and Emes L'Yaakov as to why the salt in the water was offered up as opposed to the water itself.
6. Indeed, the Mishna in Pirkei Avos (4:28) teaches us that it is these three traits that take a man out of the world.
7. Bava Basra, 21a.
8. Chasam Sofer, Vayikra, 2:11.
9. Shemos, 20:14.
10. It should be noted that one only transgresses loh sachmod when he makes an effort to acquire the item; mere desire does not constitute a transgression although it is certainly criticized by the sources who discuss it.
11. Ibn Ezra, Shemos, 20:14.