Anyone familiar with the Ten Commandments knows that we are not supposed to be jealous of what others have. How, then, can I suggest that we be jealous of others? The answer of course is that it depends HOW you are jealous.
:::A Rabbi once gave a sermon about how every attribute could be used for good. Anger can be used to be zealous for G-d’s honor; stubbornness can be used to refuse the urgings of the Yetzer Hara to sin, and so forth.
“Rebbe,” asked one of the listeners, “You say that every bad mida can be good. How can one use the mida of kefira (heresy and denial of G-d) for good?”
The Rabbi thought for a moment then said, “When you see someone in need, don’t have faith and say, “HaShem will help him.” You must think that G-d will not be there to help him, so you must do it yourself!”:::
There are, therefore, some cases where jealousy is appropriate and even beneficial. Chazal say that jealousy of scribes increases wisdom. In other words, when we see Torah Scholars who are great and righteous people, we should be jealous of what they’ve achieved to the point that it urges us to grow and achieve great things in our own right.
However, an important key to being jealous is whether we are optimists or pessimists. The old question is, “Is the glass half-full or is it half-empty?” R’ Avigdor Miller z”l would say, “It’s completely full – half with water and half with air, a wondrous thing that is life-giving and necessary.”
When we look at others, do we see them as “half-full” or “half-empty”? It’s the difference between being “zealous” and “jealous” and makes all the difference in the world.
If we look at someone and see what he is not, then we look down on him. We may get angry with him in “righteous indignation” that is “for the sake of Heaven.” I use the quotes here because even though those are the words used, they are not the truth. Most often, what we think is righteous indignation is really ulterior motives since a true tzaddik would not do many of the things done in the name of Heaven. This is what I call being “zealous,” thinking HaShem needs us to fight His battles by defaming and belittling others. Instead, I advocate being jealous.
Being jealous of someone means seeing their glass as half-full; or better yet, as completely full! If I ignore any shortcomings and focus on what they do right, I can try to reach their levels in serving HaShem and achieve a positive result.
The Ramban in his famous letter to his son said that he should view everyone as superior to himself. If they are more learned, like the Torah sages we mentioned before, he should respect them because they know more than he does. If they are less-learned, then he should respect them because if they sin they do it unintentionally but he should know better. So how do we put this into practice in our lives to make ourselves better people? By being jealous.
When you look at someone, see what he has that you don’t. Not his house, his wife, or his possessions, of course. But see what great characteristics he has that you could aspire to.
The man may not be a great scholar, but he is involved in his community, and shoulders their burdens. He’s on the board of a school or shul because he is willing to help, or he collects funds for the needy. Maybe the fellow keeps to himself, but when he prays, he is very intent. That’s something to envy!
The list goes on and on. Someone could be friendly, or they could be aloof. If they’re aloof, you can be jealous that they don’t flatter people for their approval. It’s not about the whole package of who the person is, but the whole package of who you could be. He really connects with his kids, she’s so in tune with people’s feelings; that fellow will do anything for anyone; that woman loves Shabbos and Yom Tov. She’s so generous; he can really keep a secret. Whatever it is, find something to admire and emulate.
Collectors may have vast collections of their own, yet still wish they had one item someone else had, even if he collected it for a different reason. If you collect stamps and someone else collects baseball memorabilia, you might both be interested in a Babe Ruth postage stamp. Though you don’t want his collection, you find this item of interest to you. Similarly, you may not want all his traits, but can find one to wish you had in your personal makeup.
There’s a happy consequence of this jealousy too. Instead of wishing ill to others, you will come to hold them in greater esteem and try to learn from the things they do right. Then your cup won’t just be half-full, it will be overflowing!
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