Overcoming Jealousy

One of the most difficult things to get rid of within ourselves is the  trait of jealousy. 

In fact, until Moshiach comes, that will be one thing that most people struggle with on some level or other.

Jealousy is a natural human response.  It is also a problem which Torah mentions in many different situations.  Cain killed Hevel due to jealousy.  Jealousy has resulted in many tragedies since the beginning of time.

A new baby in the family brings with it a reaction of jealousy in other siblings. This is part of the human condition.

If we, as parents, favor one child over another, it definitely creates a feeling of jealousy within the rest of the siblings.  A child naturally wonders why a parent would prefer one child over another? Every child wants to feel special to their parents.

In fact, this problem of jealousy is mentioned in the Torah, in the parsha about Yosef hatzadik. His father Yacov made him a coat of many colors and gave him a gift. Yacov did not give that gift to his other sons. This created jealousy in them. The brothers felt Yosef was their father’s favorite and they could not bear him because of it. That is why the Torah exhorts us not to show preference to one child over another. Yacov Avinu was punished for showing preference to Yosef hatzadik over his other sons.

One of our prayers can be that Hashem, our Father in Heaven, should give to all of His children equally so nobody will  be jealous of another….nevertheless, the reality of life is that not all of us are meant to have the same blessings, at least not now in galus, and therefore we need to learn to be happy with what we do have and not compare ourselves to others ( even though it is human nature to do so). The biggest problem with jealousy is that we tend to compare ourselves constantly to others. The closer we are to someone, the more we compare ourselves. We do not often compare ourselves to strangers but we do compare ourselves to friends, relatives etc. 

Hashem is our Father. We are His children. As such, when one Jew has something we are lacking, it automatically creates a feeling of jealousy. We wonder, even subconsciously, why that person merited this blessing when we did not? And automatically that means we are judging: we are assuming we are as deserving as the other person, or we may think that the other person is not worthy of that blessing, so  we feel jealous. We feel uncomfortable.  We wonder if perhaps we do not find favor in Hashems eyes or we may wonder if Hashem is angry with us.  We feel deficient somehow.

What we fail to realize is that if Hashem blesses someone with something, it does not mean that person is more precious in the eyes of Hashem or more beloved to Him. For reasons known only to the Creator, Hashem sees that person needs that blessing. And for reasons known only to the Creator, He may see that at this point in time, we do not need that blessing yet. But in our eyes, we feel like we do not deserve that blessing….and that causes us to feel sad and pained.  In our estimation, we may be doing everything right. We may be more think that we are more religious than the other person who is blessed with what we want….and we cannot understand why we are not blessed with the same. We feel jealous because we think Hashem loves the other person more than us…..that is why children feel jealous when a parent gives one child more than another.   (Actually, one of our prayers should be that since we are all Hashem’s children, just like parents try not to give to one child more than another, so too may Hashem bless all of us with what we need and want so there should be no need or cause for jealousy among “siblings”).

It is similar to the question of why righteous people suffer and people who are not righteous, and may not even be very good people, are often blessed with lots of material blessings.

It is a question we cannot answer because we are not the Creator, we do not see the whole picture and we do not know what anyone’s soul is in this world to accomplish or fix.  We also cannot see into the inner heart or soul of the other person, nor can we know what merits they m ay have from this life or a past life.  

But one thing is certain: not being blessed with something we need or want, does not mean we are not as beloved to G-d or as precious to Him. It does not mean we are worthless , nor does it mean we are being punished. Sometimes it can be a test. Sometimes it means G-d wants us to pray more because He loves our prayers. Just like Sara, Rivkah and Rachel were all barren at first because G-d loved their prayers. But eventually they all were blessed with children.

Rachel only had two sons. Leah was blessed with six sons. Does that make Leah better than Rachel? No, it just means that Hashem wanted it that way.  

And sometimes it may even mean that we do not merit having that blessing at this time. Therefore, we need to work on ourselves, do teshuvah, increase our prayers and good deeds and pray for what we want or need.

There are a few aspects to jealousy.

One type of jealousy is for what we feel someone else has that we are lacking.  That is a natural jealousy which we need to counteract by realizing that if someone else has something  it is because Hashem, in His Infinite wisdom, decided that person should have that.   And we need to pray that we should be blessed with that as well, if it is good for us  (not always what we want is good for us).

And if we feel consumed by jealousy and longing for a particular blessing someone else has, to the point that we may even wish the other person should not have that blessing,  we need to ask ourselves:

How would it help me if the other person would not have that thing? How would I benefit? How would it make me feel better if someone else would be deprived of that blessing?

Maybe we believe misery loves company? Actually, that is not a Jewish idea. Misery does not love company. Jews like to be positive and around positive people and not to gain happiness at someone else’s expense or unhappiness.  We need to consciously tell ourselves: if the other person loses or does not have the blessing I want and have not yet been granted, how would it benefit me? What would I gain? On the contrary, if I truly pray for the other person to have what I do not have, our sages assure us that this is the best way to be blessed with that very thing. When we pray for others in a matter we have not yet been blessed with,  we are answered first.   Certainly praying for or wishing the opposite will not bring blessings!

It is good to pray that the Almighty should bless you with what you see another person has that you want, rather than wishing the Almighty should take away from the other person what they have.  That also is a good training to develop positive character traits and good thoughts towards others. And ,in reality, this is the right prayer to have: to ask the Almighty to bless you also with what you feel you are lacking, and that it should be good for you. Because if it is not good on some level (even if we do not understand why) then surely we would not want that either.

When a lot of people, an entire community or all the Jewish people are collectively going through a difficulty or suffering, it makes it easier to bear in some ways. Not because we are jealous and want to see anyone suffer, chasve shalom. Simply because when you know you are not the only one, it is a bit of a comfort. You feel you can get through this because everyone else is doing the same. Take coronavirus, for example. When there is a lockdown in many areas, nobody feels deprived of going to synagogue or other places because we are all in this together.  If it was only you unable to do something or go somewhere, you might feel a certain twinge of jealousy or perhaps some fear of missing out.  But when many people are going through the same situation at the same time, it gives hope. As a community, we have strength together. We gain strength from one another. And that is a healthy thing.

There is another type of jealousy: a  positive, healthy type of jealousy  (a sort of competitive aspect) when we see another person who is doing lots of Torah and mitzvoth and we wish we could be on a higher spiritual level and we want to emulate that person. This type of jealousy can bring us to an improved level in our service to Hashem by making us better people, with better middot, and doing more good in the world. The Torah says this type of jealousy is good because it brings a person to grow spiritually and to become better.  To feel jealous of someone else’s good accomplishments or good character traits is okay if used in the right way: not in a destructive way of being jealous where you wish the other person was not accomplishing good, but rather in the way of trying to emulate the other person’s good deeds or good middot. Similar to the way we look up to a tzadik: we never feel jealous of a tzadik. We feel the tzadik is on such a higher level than we are, that it is out of our league and we feel no jealousy. We just wish to strive to be like that tzadik.

But when a regular person is doing a lot of good or has very refined character traits, we may feel jealous because it causes us to feel somehow inadequate: it makes us feel we are not as worthy, not as good, and we feel somehow threatened. We need to go above all that and realize if someone else is better than we are, we should feel happy for that person and simply learn from the person to improve our own ways. That is a positive type of jealousy, as it leads to self improvement.

There is also a type of jealousy which is very damaging.  That is a jealousy whereby a person is going through some sort of suffering and they feel upset and perhaps angry because of it,  and they want someone else to go through that same suffering, somehow believing that way they will feel not so alone, or that somehow they are not the terrible person they assumed they were if another person also is suffering the same way.

It is a judgmental situation, where you feel you are too good and certainly you do not deserve the suffering you are going through (or you are frustrated with your situation) and you start thinking perhaps of someone you are upset with, angry with, or look down at : someone you feel should be suffering rather than you . Perhaps that person hurt you deeply and you feel angry and wonder why you are suffering instead of that other person. You cannot accept that Hashem has decided to bless that person who hurt you so much with the exact blessing you want and need. You somehow feel you know better than Hashem! You feel that you want Hashem to acknowledge your suffering and hurt by showing you He does not favor the person you are so upset with. You think the other person should somehow be punished. It is almost a vengeful attitude.   Or you may even feel almost embarrassed or ashamed: why are you, the good person, suffering while the other person, who did evil to you, is living a happy, tranquil life?  This type of thinking, although normal on an emotional level,  is unhealthy and one needs to work hard to get rid of such negative thinking, pushing away such thoughts that may rise to the brain. One needs to remove such negative feelings from one’ s heart and soul. We are not Hashem and cannot know why one person suffers and another does not; why the tranquility of the righteous or the suffering of the wicked. These are old questions the Torah has dealt with from times long ago.  In fact, when we see a person who hurt us or who did something terrible, living a happy, normal life, it can sometimes give us hope that even if we do something wrong or hurt someone, Hashem will also bless us with a good life and have patience for us to do teshuvah (to repent). 

In reality, how would another person suffering, relieve your suffering or help your own situation?  It only  makes you feel you are not the only one. But it does not change your situation. It does not remove your own suffering. Far better to stop begrudging another their blessings and rather pray to that Hashem should save you and remove your suffering and correct the problem at its spiritual source. Far better to work on self- improvement and doing more good to bring more merits to oneself and the world rather than worrying about someone else going through suffering.

Why is it that some people who are  suffering sometimes feel a sort of subconscious wish for others to also suffer  ? The reason may be because those people need others to acknowledge their suffering. They need to know they are not alone.  If they truly feel that others care for them and feel for them and suffer with them, even just emotionally, then they would feel no need for negative thoughts about others. Often negative thoughts arise when we feel abandoned, alone and not really cared about.  It is very important for a person who is suffering to have a support system: never to feel alone, never to feel that others do not feel their pain or acknowledge their suffering. If we look apathetic or somehow seem insensitive to others when they are going through hard times, that is when the other person may feel a sort of subconscious anger.  

We all need to work on empathizing with others, to rejoice in their simchas and to feel their pain when they are suffering. This is part of ahavat Yisrael, loving another Jew as you love yourself.

If we realize that our suffering can actually be in order to bring merit and salvation to klal Yisrael, to all the Jewish nation, then it is no longer just a personal suffering. It has something positive in it. For example, if someone chasve shalom, G-d forbid, is struggling with a certain illness, or with infertility, others will start to do introspection and improve themselves in order to bring merit to that person and also just to fix their own failures, realizing that all Jews are one, all are connected, and if one person is suffering, everyone has to work on becoming better. So it can lead to very positive results for all the Jewish people. Then one’s personal suffering is no longer only personal. It has a higher purpose. Often one person may suffer for others, for the entire Jewish nation.

It is also essential to realize what we learn in Tanya: that every suffering a person undergoes in this world, due to whatever sins one may have done, cleanses the soul and removes the need for suffering in purgatory in the world to come. Therefore, to be jealous of someone else NOT having the same suffering you may have is basically a lack of faith and understanding. Every soul is given whatever it needs for its purification and to be jealous that someone else does not have the suffering you have is foolish.  Whatever suffering is one’s portion must be looked at as a benefit to the soul and as saving a person from worse suffering. Another person has a different sin or a different need for cleansing and their suffering is not the same. We must never compare: each soul has a different purpose and different cleansing that is needed.  Rather, we need to concentrate on what we need to perfect in ourselves, and recognize the many blessings bestowed upon us, even if we also have some suffering in life.

We need to learn to look at others with a good eye and wish only goodness for everyone. We need to train ourselves to really wish good for other people, to bless them and to pray for their welfare.

And as we look at others, so Hashem looks at us. As we judge others, so Hashem judges us.

In fact, as we mature in life we need to understand what Hashem and Torah really require from us:

That we should work on not feeling jealous. If a parent favors one child, how should a sibling feel? Instead of feeling jealous, the sibling should feel proud to be related to such a special person. This is the way things will be when Moshiach comes. Now in galus, jealousy is still a very strong emotion and very difficult to overcome. But in reality when we see things from the Divine perspective, there is no need for jealousy.

One interesting way of looking at things is to consider the following:

When we see a relative or friend, or even another Jew  suffering, we certainly are not jealous of that challenge they are going through. In fact, we are grateful that Hashem did not test us with such a challenge and we pray never to go through that.  Each person is given whatever they need to perfect/correct their soul and to fulfill their particular mission in this world.   One person’s portion is not another’s.

 We need to view the blessings that others have in the same way, even if we are lacking in those blessings ourselves.
We need to realize that being jealous of another’s blessings is not correct because each person is given whatever blessings they need to fulfill their mission in life and if you are lacking what your friend has, it is not because you are less worthy. It is because this is not your portion (at least, not yet), for whatever reason.  Therefore, why feel jealous? You would not want someone else’s portion, just as you would not want someone else’s portion of suffering.

Sometimes you will be blessed later on with those things you presently lack , but you need to pray and ask Hashem to bless you (just like Sara, Rivkah and Rachel , the mothers of the Jewish nation, had to pray for children).   But to be jealous because another has that blessing and you do not, is not a good character trait. How does it help you to be happier in life if you are jealous because someone has something you lack? It does not really make you feel better at all. In fact, you will feel far happier when you learn to rejoice in what other’s are blessed with, and to feel genuinely pained if someone else is suffering. Then you will feel inside yourself that you have good character traits, proper sensitivity and are a spiritual person.

The best way to view things is to try to rejoice in the good that others have, and to ask Hashem to bless us as well with those blessings. We need to become happy with our own lot. We need to realize whatever we have is exactly what we need to fulfill our mission in this life time, specifically tailored to our souls, and therefore we need to stop expecting that we must have whatever we want. Not necessarily is what we want what we need, or what Hashem wants us to have. And therefore, we need to be grateful and thankful to Hashem for whatever blessings we do have: to truly become appreciative and grateful. When we do that and we truly can thank Hashem, then we stop feeling so jealous. If we truly are grateful in our life, we no longer feel threatened or somehow upset if we don’t have what someone else has.  So gratitude and true appreciation and contentment are the antidote to jealousy.

We must learn to see, and feel gratitude for, the good in our lives and to put our priorities straight.

It helps to start thanking G-d for all the problems and challenges He does NOT give us. Then we can also move on to thank Him truthfully for all the blessings He bestows upon us, which are unearned gifts. With that attitude of gratitude and humility, we no longer feel the need to be jealous of anyone.

It is normal, of course, to feel some trace of jealousy at certain times, as we are only human,  but we need to work on correcting that within our minds and hearts.  And as we correct that, we actually prepare ourselves for the coming of Moshiach , when there will be no further jealousy. In fact, one of the last middot (character traits) that will be corrected when Moshiach comes, is the mida of jealousy.  It is the hardest. But even now, as a preparation for the Messianic era, may we merit to eradicate jealousy within our hearts and minds and to already behave as we would when Moshiach is here.