The Danger of Envy

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When my wife and I were first married, we lived in a small rented apartment.  I was learning in Kollel in Lakewood, and our income was minimal.  We were happy to have a small apartment in which to live. 

 

One day, in July, the landlord called, and said, “Hi!  I have good news and bad news.   The good news is that I sold the apartment. The bad news is that you need to leave by Labor Day.” 

 

For us, of course, none of this was good news…  

 

I argued that we had signed a contract which guaranteed longer notice.  The landlord responded by daring me to take him to court. 

 

Having no other choice, my wife and I put some money together, overextending ourselves, to buy a home.  It was a very stressful two months, but by the end of the summer, we had closed. 

 

The day before Labor Day weekend, the landlord called me back. 

 

“Guess what?  The deal fell through.  You can stay.” 

 

I told him that it was too late, as we had already signed on a new home… 

 

Nobody Gets in Gd’s Way 

 

This story provides a classic example of the Gemara’s timeless teaching in Masechet Yoma (38): “They will call you by your name; they will have you reside in your place; they will give you what is yours.  Nobody infringes upon that which is assigned to his fellow, and no kingship infringes upon that of another, even a hairsbreadth. 

 

The Gemara assures us that we will always have the precise assets, positions, and honor that we are supposed to have.  Gd decides which titles by which we will be called, where we will live, and what we will have.  And these decisions always materialize.  Nothing will ever get in Gd’s way.   

 

In His infinite wisdom, Gd decided that my wife and I should live in that home.  So He arranged that somebody would almost purchase our apartment, forcing us to scramble and put ourselves under a great deal of pressure to buy that home.  The deal that almost happened but then fell through was only the mechanism.  The true cause was Gd’s decision. 

 

Another humorous personal example is the time when I attended a wedding, and, during the huppah, after the people were called for the recitation of the first six blessings, a certain rabbi was called to recite the seventh, but he was not present.  The person making the announcements then invited a different rabbi, but it turned out that this rabbi, too, had not attended.  A third rabbi was called, but he had stepped out.  Somebody informed the person making the announcements that Rabbi Mansour was present, and so he called my name and invited me to recite the blessing. 

 

I had been sitting next to a prominent Israeli rabbi, who turned to me and whispered in my ear the Gemara’s words: “They will call you by your name; they will have you reside in your place; they will give you what is yours.”  I do not need the honor of reciting a berachah under the huppah, but Hashem, for whatever reason, decided that I should be given this honor on that particular occasion.  And so He saw to it that the other rabbis would be absent at that moment. 

 

Nobody and nothing gets in Gd’s way.  When He decides that we should have something, or lose something, then it will happen, no matter what we or anybody else does. 

 

Korah’s Foolish Mistake 

 

This month, we read the tragic – but so very instructive – story of Korah, a cousin of Moshe and Aharon, who mounted an audacious revolt against them.  He cynically accused them of seizing their positions and imposing their authority over the nation out of a lust for power.  With his rhetorical skill, Korah succeeded in winning the support of much of the nation, and brazenly challenged Moshe and Aharon.  This uprising had catastrophic consequences, as Korah and the other leaders of the revolt were devoured by the ground, and 250 of his followers were consumed by fire. 

 

The Rabbis explain that Korah was driven to launch this ill-fated rebellion by the appointment of his younger cousin, Elitzafan, as leader of the Kehat family of Leviyim.  Korah felt entitled to this coveted post, and his younger cousin’s appointment irked him.  He decided to challenge Moshe Rabbenu – the greatest prophet who ever lived, and the humblest of all men, who led Beneh Yisrael out of bondage, brought them the Torah, and interceded on their behalf on numerous occasions, including after they worshipped the golden calf.  Korah made this foolish mistake – which ended up costing him his life – because he failed the learn the lesson taught by the Gemara.  “Bimkomcha yoshivucha – They will have you reside in your place.”  He did not recognize that everyone holds the precise position that Gd assigned for him, and there is thus no reason to envy or try to usurp anyone else’s post.  If Korah had understood that “they will give you what is yours,” that Hashem gives us all the precise amount of wealth, power, and prestige that is right for us, and that “no kingship infringes upon that of another, even a hairsbreadth,” nobody can take that which does not belong to him, he would not have made this mistake, and his life would have been spared. 

 

There is, however, one puzzling element of Korah’s uprising – the timing.  Already the Ramban raised the question of why Korah did not launch his revolt immediately after Elitzafan’s appointment.  Why did he wait until now, after the sin of the spies, to challenge Moshe’s authority? 

 

The Ramban explains that Korah waited until Moshe’s popularity waned.  After the Torah was given, and after Moshe pleaded to Gd to forgive the sin of the golden calf, and Beneh Yisrael built the Mishkan, the people felt great respect and esteem for Moshe.  However, once Beneh Yisrael left Mount Sinai, they complained about the conditions of travel, and then the spies returned with a frightening report about the Land of Israel.  The people were punished for listening to the spies, and they felt disappointed with Moshe.  Korah now saw his chance for mounting a revolt. 

 

Others, however, explained differently.  In the Land of Israel, Gd’s providence is manifest more overtly than outside the land.  There it can be seen far more clearly that “they will call you by your name; they will have you reside in your place; they will give you what is yours,” that Gd assigns everyone precisely what he is supposed to have.  In fact, the land was divided among the people based on a lottery, which was controlled by Gd.  The people saw and heard very clearly Gd allotting each person his piece of land.  In Eretz Yisrael, it is unmistakable that we all receive what we are supposed to receive, and there is thus no reason to envy others or to try to take their share. 

 

After the sin of the spies, Gd decreed that Beneh Yisrael would wander in the desert for another 39 years before entering the land.  Until the sin of the spies, the plan was for the nation to cross into Eretz Yisrael immediately.  Now, they were told that they would be traveling in the wilderness for decades.  And so it was only now that Korah launched his revolt.  Beforehand, the nation anticipated their imminent entry into the land, and this connection to Eretz Yisrael gave them a heightened awareness of Hashgahah (Providence), that everything is given to them by Gd.  Therefore, Korah did not feel envious of his cousin.  But now that the connection to the land was severed, Korah lost sight of this fundamental precept, of the fact that Gd gives each person the position and the level of prominence which is right for him.  He therefore felt jealous, and mounted his ill-fated campaign to unseat Moshe and Aharon. 

 

Stop Ruining Your Life! 

 

A famous Mishnah in Pirkeh Avot (4:21) lists jealousy as one of the three flaws that threaten to “remove a person from the world” (the other two are lust and the desire for honor).  Jealousy can consume a person to the point where, like Korah, he ends up ruining his life for the sake of competing with other people and trying to have what they have. 

 

The safeguard against this destructive tendency is emunah, the belief that Hashem gives each person precisely what he or she is meant to have.  We can save ourselves so much anguish, so much anxiety, and so much grief by internalizing this concept.  Once we understand that each person is different, that what one person has is not necessarily right for somebody else, that Hashem gives every individual his unique blessings and places him in his unique situation, we can avoid jealousy and the self-destructive need to be like other people. 

 

So many people ruin their lives because instead of accepting the life Hashem chose for them, they struggle in futility to live like their friends, neighbors, relatives, or folks they see on social media.  Instead of cultivating their uniqueness, they waste their time, and sacrifice their happiness, trying to be somebody who they are not meant to be.   

 

This is the lesson we must learn from the tragic story of Korah.  “Bimkomcha yoshivucha.”  Hashem gives us whatever money and whatever prestige we were meant to have.  We don’t need anymore.  Of course, we are entitled to try to improve our lives, to earn more and to climb the corporate ladder.  But there is no sense in envying or resenting those who rise higher than we do, because Hashem gives us all precisely what we’re supposed to have. 

 

Let’s stop allowing jealousy to ruin our lives, to take away our joy.  Let us instead trust in Hashem, and feel satisfied with the life that Hashem has given us.