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Vayeshev(Genesis 37-40)

Not Being Jealous


Sometimes we feel jealous - that if we had what someone else has, our lives would be better and happier. But the truth is that God has given each of us just the perfect package of our inner and outer circumstances in life, tailor-made for each individual. The Torah portion this week teaches us about all the damage people can do to themselves and to others when they forget this important secret.

From now on let's spend our precious time and energy becoming the best we can be instead of comparing ourselves to others.

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In our story a kid discovers first-hand the secret of how not to be jealous.

"STAGE OF LIFE"

      'Why is everyone looking at me like that? Oops! I must have been daydreaming.' I came down to earth and found myself smack in the middle of the school play dress-rehearsal, and it was my line - my turn to speak! I blushed, quickly said the line, and tried to concentrate on the rest of the play.

      But how would I ever be able to concentrate, when that Sherri Austin had come to school today wearing my boots? How should I feel when I had been dreaming about the shiny two-tone leather boots ever since I saw them in the window of that new shoe store? My mother thought they were way too expensive, but apparently Sherri's didn't, because there they were this morning, right on her little feet...

      Despite my feelings, the play had to go on, so I tried to pay attention. Somehow I managed to make it through the rest of the first act without muffing any more of my lines, but I certainly wouldn't have won any Academy awards for my performance. And it didn't take a genius to see my heart just wasn't in it.

      Between acts backstage, my friend, Toni, came over, still dressed in her doctor's costume. "Hey Becky, is everything okay? You just don't seem yourself out there on stage today. You're usually right on cue."

      I tried to laugh it off, but Toni really looked concerned. "If you must know, I am a little upset." Being the emotional type I am, I started spilling my guts about how jealous I was about Sherri's boots, and I didn't stop until I added, even to my own surprise, how much nicer my life would be if my mother would be more like Sherri's.

      "Wow, you're really jealous aren't you?" said Toni.

      "And why shouldn't I be? After all, look at..."

      I was cut short. "OKAY EVERYONE OUT ON STAGE FOR ACT TWO!" announced Mrs. Hall, the director. We all scrambled to get ready. I buttoned up my farmer costume, gathered my props and was about to jump onto stage, when I bumped into Toni again. Oddly enough, she was handing me her stethoscope prop!

      "Here Becky, take it. I don't want you to be jealous of me," she said with a funny glint in her eye.

      "What are you talking about?"

      "Aren't you jealous that I have one of these and you don't?"

      "Of course not! Why should I be jealous? You're the one playing the doctor - you need that prop. I'm playing a farmer. What in the world do I need it for? And if I had needed it, Mrs. Hall would have given me one."

      Toni gave me one of her 'I've got you' smiles, and said, "That's right, you don't need it, and if you did you would have gotten it. And I'm going to tell you a secret: that's just the way it is in life too!"

      Huh?

      "Every one of us has our role to play in life. God knows just what 'props' we need to play it. Our possessions, our families, even our looks, are all 'props' God has given us to become the best we can, for who we are meant to be. That's why it makes no sense to get jealous - about boots or anything else, right?"

      She pecked me on the cheek and ran out on stage.

      I grabbed my pitchfork prop and my farmer's hat, and shuffled out behind her, my mind buzzing with her words. I guess it really would be dumb to want someone else's props, wouldn't it? In a play, or in life. I went back on stage and decided that it would be a smart thing to focus on my own role in life, and work on making the best use of the 'props' I had, instead of being jealous of somebody else's.

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Ages 3-5

Q. How did Becky feel at first about Sherri and her new boots?
A. She felt jealous of her and wished she had what Sherri had.

Q. How did she feel in the end?
A. She understood that God gives everyone just what he needs, so it was silly to be jealous of someone else.


Ages 6-9

Q. Why did Toni hand Becky her stethoscope stage-prop?
A. She wanted to show her that just as there was no point for an actor in a play to have anyone's props except his own, so, too, there was no point in being jealous of someone else's situation in life, which is in a deeper sense really the 'props' that God gives to each of us to accomplish our own special life-goals.

Q. Do you thing Becky would be happier if she had Sherri's expensive boots, generous mother, and good looks?
A. It might seem that way, but really, she wouldn't, at least after a little while. The fact that God didn't give her these things proves that they wouldn't make her happy. God knows us inside and out, and gives each of us just what we need to be the most happy in the long run. For example, perhaps the boots would have injured her feet, or the good looks would have made her nasty and conceited, etc.


Ages 10 and Up

Q. Is there ever a time that jealousy is a positive thing?
A. Yes, when it comes to spiritual things, such as someone else's good character traits or wisdom - jealousy could motivate us to be more like them. However, we should still take care that our thoughts are that we should rise up to be more like them, and not that they should fall to be more like us!

Q. Our Jewish sages teach that "jealousy, selfish desire, and status seeking, remove a person from reality." What does this mean? Do you agree?
A. What these three things have in common is that they indicate that a person is somehow dissatisfied with the situation that God has put him in. They 'remove a person from reality' because God and His wisdom and goodness are the ultimate reality. While a person is connected to that reality in a deep way, it is virtually impossible to fall into any of those three negative states.


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Published: November 27, 2004

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