A Taste of Jealousy
If you've got it, don't flaunt it! In this week's Torah portion (Deut. 5:14) we learn about a certain offering people had to bring to the Tabernacle as a penalty for behaving in a way that made someone jealous. The Torah way is to be careful not to make people feel jealous.
In our story, a kid gets a taste of jealousy.
Joey opened up his lunchbox during recess and smiled. Neatly packed were: a marshmallow and chocolate spread sandwich, a big shiny red apple, a box of orange juice, and FIVE fig newtons, his favorite. Mom had done it again! He decided to start with the fig newtons, and end with the sandwich, and eat the less interesting stuff in the middle.
Meanwhile, Martin was busy looking inside HIS lunchbox, and the news was not so good. Since his mother had to go out of town at the beginning of the week and the babysitter had taken over lunch-packing duty, things had gone way downhill. His sandwich was made from a thick slab of dark brown bread that he could hardly chew and was stuffed with little green squiggly things that looked like grass and some kind of smelly paste he couldn't even pronounce. Yuck! Like Joey, he also had an apple, but when he took it out of the baggie, he saw that it was not only small and lopsided, but a neat round hole in it that he knew from yesterday meant there'd be something wriggling inside. There was a little tiny bottle of mineral water, not his favorite, and ... that was it! Not even a snack!
Joey looked over at his classmate, Martin, and noticed him looking down into his lunch with a funny expression on his face. If he stretched his neck all the way over, he could see into Martin's box. When he did, he realized why Martin looked so funny. A sneaky little feeling started tickling Joey inside, urging him to do something not so nice. He tried to fight it but he couldn't.
When he took out his cookies, he said really loud, "Yum, these cookies are so delicious! And five of them! I am so lucky!" He made sure Martin could hear him, and then he ate every single one, smacking his lips and chewing mightily throughout. He skipped his apple and juice, and went straight for his sandwich, commenting and marveling at the amazing combination of marshmallow and chocolate and at what a wonderful idea it was for a sandwich.
Every now and then, he would steal a look at Martin, and felt a tiny ping of satisfaction as Martin's head hung down lower and lower. The next day the scene repeated itself and by the third day, Joey could hardly count the minutes until lunch recess so he could once again 'remind' Martin how much better stuff he had than him.
The lunch bell finally rang and Joey was about to spring into action when their teacher, Mr. Markson, made a surprise announcement. "Class," he said, "since we've been learning about trying to understand how other people feel, today we're going to experience that by having a Lunch Exchange Day."
"What's that?" the class called out.
"A lunch exchange. That means that every student will switch lunches with the kid behind him! I'd spoken to your parents last week and they've all approved."
A great murmur rose up in the class over this new idea. Most of the kids were really excited about the change of pace. Almost all of them, in fact, except for one. You can surely guess who was not so happy.
"But Mr. Markson," Joey blurted out. "My mom packs my lunch special for me and only me!"
"I'm sure she does, Joey, but for our special project she gave permission just like everyone else."
"No buts, Joey. Let's see, who will be the lucky kid to get Joey's lunch? Why, Martin! It looks like it will be you!"
"Thank you!" Martin gushed. "But who will I give mine to? I'm at the end of the row."
The teacher thought a moment. "I guess it makes the most sense to give it to Joey, who is in front of you."
Joey almost choked. But having no choice, he handed over his delicious lunch to Martin, of all people.
Joey watched longingly as Martin hungrily gobbled what was supposed to be his lunch.
"Now, class," the teacher said, "as you eat, try to think about how everyone is different and how other people feel..."
Joey sure could. If he was so jealous having to switch off for just one day, imagine how jealous Martin must feel every day! Well at least tomorrow he'd be back to his normal, great lunch - but then he would make sure not to show off about it - and maybe he'd even offer to share.
Q. How did Joey feel at first about showing off his lunch?
A. He felt it was okay and fun to make Martin jealous.
Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He felt that showing off hurt people's feelings and was wrong.
Q. What life-lesson do you think Joey learned that day?
A. He'd been teasing his classmate by flaunting his tastier lunch, but switching off helped him realize how much it hurts when someone has something that you don't and that it's not nice to rub it in.
Q. What's wrong with flaunting what you've got?
A. The goal of life is to do what we can to help others feel better - not worse. Flaunting, or showing off, makes people who don't have what we do feel the pain of jealousy. We should enjoy and appreciate the good things God has given them, but not show them off.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our sages teach that a blessing rests on that which is hidden from the eye. What do you think this means?
A. Our attitudes - and those of other people - toward what we have can have a very real physical effect on our circumstances. If we flaunt and make others jealous over our good fortune, it is a spiritual rule that we will be much more likely to end up losing that good fortune than if we had remained modestly low-key.
Q. Why do you think people show off?
A. They have accepted the erroneous assumption that their self-worth depends on other's impressions of them. If a person connects to his or her spiritual, Godly essence, he will appreciate and enjoy what he has, but will no longer desire to flaunt it.