Some people have been blessed with more than others. Through hard work or just plain good fortune, they may have things most others cannot afford to buy. It's only natural that such a person might want to show off a bit and let others see what he has. But we learn from this week's Torah portion that this is a mistake.
The land of Canaan was experiencing hard times. The economy had collapsed and may people were literally running out of food to eat. Yet God blessed Jacob and his family with plenty and they weren't hurting. Still, when Jacob saw that his neighbors were running to buy food in Egypt, the only country that was still prosperous, he realized that if the people around him noticed that he and his family were still well off they would get very jealous and resentful, and perhaps even try to do him harm. So Jacob told his sons to pack their wagons and go to Egypt to buy food like everybody else. We can learn from here to be grateful for our blessings but not show them off and make people envious.
In our story a girl discovers the value of not showing off and making others jealous.
It was 8:15 in the morning. The school bus was on the way. Tanya, the Heller's cook had placed a nice hot breakfast on the table for Stephanie, like she did every morning. But as the minutes ticked past, the fluffy omelet and creamy oatmeal were getting cold and the girl still hadn't come downstairs from her room.
Her mom, concerned that she would miss the bus, went upstairs and knocked on the door. Stephanie opened up and with a flourish turned to her mom and said, "How do you like it?"
Mrs. Heller did a double take at the sight of her daughter wearing a brand new dress. It was the special custom tailored outfit that her dad had recently brought home for her from his latest business trip to Paris. "Er, well, Steph. You look gorgeous, but isn't it a bit much for school?"
The girl shook her head. "I think its perfect. This way my whole class will get to see me in it." She turned to the mirror and with a satisfied look made some last minute adjustments.
Mrs. Heller looked at her watch and frowned. Turning to her daughter she said, "Let me ask you something. How do you think your classmates will feel when they see you wearing a dress like that?"
Stephanie went to a school where most of her classmates were from families who were much less well-to-do than the Hellers. None of the other kids would ever even dream of owning such a fancy designer dress. Stephanie blurted out, "They will be so jealous, I guess."
Her mom nodded. "And is that really how you want to make people feel? Do you think it will make them like you better?"
Stephanie stood quietly as her mother's words sunk in. She knew her mom was right, but she just loved the dress...
Just them Tanya ran upstairs and called out, "The bus is in front of the gate and it's honking its horn!"
Stephanie looked up at her mom and said, "I think you're right, and I really should change out of this dress, but what about the bus?"
Mrs. Heller smiled. "I'll tell Tanya to have it go on ahead and I'll be happy to drive you to school today," she said warmly, proud of her daughter's decision.
A few minutes later, Stephanie came down wearing a neat but very ordinary dress. She sat down to quickly eat her breakfast. As she finished, the girl looked up at her mom and said, "I think I'd rather save that special dress to wear at home for special Shabbat dinners when nobody will see. Is that okay?"
Her mom gave her a hug and beamed. "Steffi, that's exactly why we bought it for you.
Q. How would Stephanie's classmates have felt if she had come to school in a dress so much nicer than theirs?
A. They would feel very jealous.
Q. Is it right to make other people feel jealous?
A. No. It hurts their feelings and could make them angry with us.
Q. What made Stephanie change her mind and not wear her new dress to school?
A. Her mom helped her to realize that it wasn't a good idea since it would cause her classmates to feel jealous and bad about their own situations. It may also cause them to resent her, which would make her less popular.
Q. If someone gets jealous of what we have, isn't that their problem?
A. Perhaps they should try to control their feelings and accept the fact that some people have more than others. But practically speaking, people do get jealous and often it causes them to like us less. We should keep this in mind and do all we can not to show off.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. What is a healthy attitude to have about the things we have?
A. Our possessions, everything we have, are a gift from God. We should be grateful for them, use them for good purposes, and even enjoy them. However, we should also be careful not to use them as a tool to hurt others by making them feel jealous or inferior. When we act modestly with our possessions, we elevate ourselves spiritually. We demonstrate that we are sensitive to people's feelings and aware that our character and values, and not our possessions are the most valuable things that we own.
Q. Why do you think people grow resentful when they see others who have more than they do?
A. Unfortunately, one of the messages that many people absorb is that the more someone has, the more valuable he is as a person. Of course this isn't true. A person's true worth is derived from the fact that he is a child of God and enhanced by his good deeds and character development. Most people don't realize this, however, and when they see someone with more, they feel devalued as a person. This unpleasant inner feeling can cause them to resent and even act unkindly to the other person. Keeping this in mind, it makes a lot of sense to go out of our way not to make people envious, and avoid the unpleasant feelings it can arouse.