A look at the dangerous effects of this devastating disease, and what can be done to defeat it.

This malady is by no means a new type of ailment, as it has been around for over 5,000 years. Most people are quite aware of the cause and effect of this ‘green-eyed’ disease, but only a few know how to combat it.

The Mishna in Pirkeh Avot lists jealousy as one of the three natural human tendencies which can potentially “drive a person out of the world.”  Jealousy can lead a person to irrational and self-defeating measures, to the point where it can thrust him “out of the world.”

The starkest example of the Mishna’s warning is the story we read this month of Korah, a cousin of Moshe Rabbenu who enjoyed what others could only dream of – wealth, prestige and wisdom.  In the end, though, he became known not for any of these qualities – but for being the only person in world history to be devoured alive by the ground.  As the Torah relates, Korah, as astute politician, led an all-out rebellion against Moshe’s leadership.  He riled up the people by fabricating severe charges against Moshe and Aharon, claiming that they assumed their positions of leadership out of sheer greed and egotism.  He led an audacious campaign against Moshe and Aharon, until God put an end to his revolt by having the ground open and devour him and several coconspirators.

What drove Korach to launch this assault?  What could have possibly motivated a person of his caliber and stature – as a member of the tribe of Levi, who carried the holy ark on his shoulders – to make such a foolish mistake?

The answer is one word: jealousy.

Korah was the oldest son of Yitzhar, whose older brother, Amram, was the father of Moshe and Aharon.  At first, Korah accepted the fact that as Moshe and Aharon were the sons of the older brother, they rightfully deserved their respective positions of leadership.  He assumed, however, that as he was the son of the second brother, he deserved the next position of authority – the leader of the tribe of Levi.  To Korah’s shock and dismay, however, this title was conferred upon Elitzafan, the youngest son of the youngest brother.  Korah was overcome by jealousy, and in a fit of envy, he launched a full-fledged revolt against Moshe.

Diagnosing the Jealousy Bug

I do not imagine that any of us would resort to a measure as drastic as Korah’s, or would ever deserve to suffer his dreadful fate.  However, like many of the stories told in Tanach, this is an extreme incident that serves as an example for us to apply in everyday situations.  And so while the “jealousy bug” might not hit us as hard as it hit Korah, it is a disease from which many of us suffer.

What are the symptoms of the jealousy bug?

The jealousy bug is that uncomfortable feeling we get when we see our friend down the block walking home from synagogue on Shabbat with his “perfect” children (as though there is such a thing), and we start thinking, “Why can’t my children by like that?”  The jealousy bug is that uncomfortable feeling we get when we are invited to a friend’s home and look around at his “perfect” house (as though there is such a thing), and we start thinking, “Why can’t I have a house like that?”  The jealousy bug is that uncomfortable feeling we get when our friend tells us about his “perfect” job (as if there is such a thing), and we start thinking, “Why can’t I have a job like that?”

Sound familiar?

Other triggers of this illness include seeing pictures shared by a friend or relative after a luxury vacation which we could never afford, or attending our child’s graduation and seeing our friends’ children receiving honors and awards.  We then start feeling insecure, uneasy and even anxious over the fact that we cannot afford the “dream vacation” (as if there is such a thing), or that our child is “just” ok and not a “dream child” (as if there is such a thing) paraded on stage sporting fancy certificates and trophies.  Or, we read about our friend from high school who is being honored at a $500-a-plate fundraiser for a prominent organization, and we start worrying about the fact that nobody wants to honor us.

Sound familiar?  If it doesn’t, just make a few small changes and substitutions in any of these scenarios, and it will sound plenty familiar.

Waiting to be Called to the Hupah

Lest I be accused of sounding condescending, let me state very clearly that we rabbis suffer from the “jealousy bug,” too.

Apropos to the season, allow me to candidly share some reflections about my participation in community weddings.

I attend countless weddings throughout the year, which, in all honesty, is one of the great perks of my profession.  And – again, in all honesty – at almost every hupah I attend, I either know for certain or suspect that I will be called to recite one of the berachot.  This is the way things are done – reciting a berachah under the hupah is an honor, and this honor is customarily given to the rabbis in attendance.  At every wedding, as I sit there, I remind myself over and over again that whether or not I am called for a berachah is about as significant to the wedding as the menu and the color of the tablecloths.  The only thing that matters at a wedding is that the couple is married according to halachah and enjoys a shared life of happiness and fulfillment until age 120.  Whether I am asked to recite the first blessing, the seventh blessing or no blessing is immaterial and of no consequence.

This is something which I know I need to repeat to myself.  I am only human, and I, like all people, naturally crave honor and prestige, and enjoy the spotlight.  It is only natural to feel envious when we do not receive the honor we were anticipating, and so I am constantly reminding myself that this is sheer vanity.

I will never forget the time I attended the wedding of two families with whom I am quite close.  Naturally, I anticipated that I would be called to recite a berachahunder the hupah.  The time for the blessings came, and another rabbi was called for the first berachah.  Then somebody else, and then another, one by one.  After a rabbi was called for the sixth blessing, I figured the families were reserving the seventh berachah – which is regarded as the greatest honor – for me.  But after the sixth berachah was recited, another rabbi was called up.

Nobody approached the hupah, and it became clear that this rabbi was not present.  And so the person in charge called a different rabbi, but it was discovered that he had stepped out.  The person then called Rabbi Eliyahu Mansour.

A prominent rabbi from Israel was sitting next to me when this happened.  He turned to me and quietly quoted a passage from the Gemara (Yoma 38): “They will call you by your name, they will have you sit in your place, they will give you what is yours; a person cannot touch that which is assigned to his fellow…even a hairsbreadth.”

While it is all but impossible to point to a single idea as being the most important ingredient to happiness, this rabbinic teaching is about as close as it gets.  The Gemara here conveys a crucial message about faith and Providence: we get everything we are supposed to get, and not a “hairsbreadth” can ever be taken away from us.  If Korah was not appointed the role of tribal leader, this was, by definition, because Gd, in His infinite wisdom, decided it was best for him not to assume this position.  If a person’s competitor got the large order, it must be because this is what Gd deemed is best.  If a person made the highest bid that he could afford but the house was sold to a higher bidder, it was because he wasn’t supposed to have that house.

We are all given precisely the honor, the position and the amount of money which we are supposed to have.  Apparently, Gd wanted me to recite a berachah under that hupah even though the families had not planned on it, and so He orchestrated a way of making it happen.

Gd’s Angel

The Torah teaches us this lesson in a very subtle yet powerful way.  Way back in the Book of Bereshit, we read that Yaakov Avinu sent Yosef to check on his brothers, who were tending to their flocks in Shechem.  When Yosef arrived, the brothers sold him as a slave to merchants traveling to Egypt, which triggered the process that resulted in the Egyptian bondage.

In relating the events, the Torah adds one brief episode which seems, at first glance, unnecessary.  When Yosef arrived at the place where he expected to find his brothers, he did not see them.  He did, however, meet there a mysterious man – identified by our Sages as an angel – who asked him what he was looking for.  Yosef told him he was searching for his 10 brothers, and the man promptly showed him where his brothers were.

The Ramban, one of the famous Sephardic commentators, raises the question of why the Torah found it necessary to record this brief, nondescript exchange.  Why does it matter that Yosef at first could not find his brothers, until a mysterious man happened to show him the way?  Why didn’t the Torah simply tell us that Yosef went to his brothers?

The answer, the Ramban explains, is that the Torah sought to teach us a vital lesson about Providence.  If Gd wants something to happen, then it is going to happen.  We do not know exactly why Gd wanted Yaakov’s descendants to suffer in Egypt, and why this had to be caused by Yosef being sold as slave, but this was His decision.  And once this decision was made, nothing could stop it.  Even after the brothers moved to a different location, Gd sent an angel to ensure that Yosef found them.

This mindset is the cure to the jealousy bug.  We have precisely what we are supposed to have.  If Gd thought we should have a larger house, He would have found a way to make it happen.  If Gd thought we should receive a certain honor, He would have sent an “angel” – in whatever form – to ensure we receive it.  It’s as simple as that.

When I first got married, I lived in a modest apartment which I could barely afford, as I was studying in kollel.  One day in July, I received a phone call from my landlord, who told me that he had “good news and bad news.”

“The good news is that I sold the apartment,” he told me.  “The bad news is that you need to leave by September.”

“What about the contract?” I protested.

“You can take me to court if you want,” came the reply.

I didn’t really have time for a court case, so we began feverishly looking for a new place to live.  We decided to financially overextend ourselves and purchase a small house.

The day before Labor Day, the landlord called me once again.

“I have bad news and good news,” he announced.  “The bad news is that the transaction fell through.  The good news is that you can stay.”

My instinct, of course, we to be frustrated and angry.  Fortunately for me, however, I had already learned the Gemara’s timeless teaching: “…they will have you sit in your place.”  Gd decides where we should live and when.  The landlord did not cause me to buy a house I shouldn’t have bought; to the contrary – he caused me to buy the house I was supposed to buy.  Gd decided I should live in that house, and so He arranged this whole situation with the landlord to make it happen.

Two Rabbis Go Into a Bar…[DS1]

It is told that the two legendary Hassidic masters, Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk and Reb Zusha of Anapoli, who were brothers, once traveled together and needed a place to sleep one night.  The bartender in the local tavern told them he had space for two beds in the back of the tavern, behind the main room, and invited them to sleep there.  And so, these two holy tzadikim walked in, made their beds, and tried to go to sleep.

As it happened, this was a night when the local townspeople would revel and get drunk.  During the loud, raucous festivities, one of the inebriated partiers staggered behind the wall at the back of the tavern, and noticed two Jewish men lying down.  Reb Elimelech slept against the wall, while Reb Zusha slept alongside him.  The drunkard and pulled Reb Zusha into the party, and called over his fellow celebrants, who decided to have “fun” by taunting and beating the rabbi.  They then let him go, and he returned to his bed.  Several minutes later, another drunkard came and again grabbed Reb Zusha and brought him out for “fun.”

After he came back, his brother, Reb Elimelech, offered to switch places and sleep on the outside, so that if the drunkards come again, they would take him instead of Reb Zusha.

Sure enough, a group of drunkards soon came and grabbed Reb Elimelech.  But just as they started dragging him out to the party, somebody said, “Wait, let’s leave this poor man alone this time.  We’ll take the other one, instead.”  And once again, they pulled Reb Zusha and began slapping him and cursing him.

Afterward, the rabbi observed how their strategy backfired.  Gd apparently decided that Reb Zusha should suffer that night, and so He made it happen, even when his brother tried to protect him.  Of course, we should always be working hard and trying to do what is best for ourselves and our families.  At the same time, however, we must remember that Gd’s has the ultimate authority over the result, and whichever outcome He decides is best is the one that will materialize.

Imagine how calmer and more relaxed we would be if we lived with this perspective.  Imagine never resenting anybody who took “our” seat in the synagogue, “our” parking spot, “our” job, “our” client, or “our” shidduch.  A person who lives with faith never thinks in those terms, because he realizes that none of this is true.  We always get precisely the seat, parking spot, job, clients, and shidduch that were supposed to get.  “A person cannot touch that which is assigned to his fellow.”  If we realize we have everything we are supposed to have, we will feel content and at ease, without ever fretting over what we don’t have.  We will live without jealousy or conflict, and enjoy inner peace and serenity, which is, ultimately, far more precious and valuable than any honor, position or amount of money.


 [DS1]I couldn’t resist writing this header.  If you or the rabbi feel it’s inappropriate you can let me know & I’ll change it.