by Rabbi Label Lam
And Rachel saw that she did not bear a child for Yaakov and Rachel was jealous of her sister… (Bereishis 30:1)
And Rachel was jealous of her sister: She was jealous of her good deeds and she therefore declared, “If it wouldn’t be that she was more righteous than I, she would not merit children.” (Rashi)
The verse tells us that Rachel was jealous of her sister. Can we not assume that jealousy is a ruinous attitude? How do we know that she was only jealous of her sister’s good deeds?
It may be fairly simple to deduce from the fact that no action of malice resulted from her jealousy. She did not respond as Cain did to his brother’s success. Not a single verse intimates that she spoke about her behind her back. What happened with that powerful emotion called “jealousy” that drove one man to kill his brother so early in human history? It’s obviously not a feeling that can be easily assuaged, once it takes grip of a person. What did Rachel do differently than Cain?
From where did the initial jolt come? Dare we say it was borne of jealousy!
The Chovos HaLevavos offers powerfully practical advice to avoid being brought to ruination by the bug of jealousy. One should try to enter into the company of people who are materially less well-off and of people who are spiritually superior. Let’s try to understand. After visiting a poor neighborhood or a hospital or a nursing home we will tend to feel grateful for the youth, health, and wealth that we possess, on whatever scale. Conversely, after being in the yeshiva study hall for a period of time and seeing people with greater facility for learning making constant progress in personal growth, one might be inspired to try to do even more in that area as well.
Almost 18 years ago David had just gotten his first taste of Talmud. He had a strong computer-like logic already installed in his bright mind. He naturally enjoyed the intellectual exercise of learning gemara. Then it happened. Someone offered him, on a whim, an extra ticket to the Siyum HaShas. He went. He scanned the room filled with more than 15,000 men in one stadium, aware that another New York arena had about the same and there were even more. He asked the fellow he was with, “Did all these people learn the whole Talmud?” The answer he got was, “No, but a significant number probably did!”
That was enough. He left the hall that night with a ferocious determination to be a part of it too. 7½ years later he was happily counted among those who completed the Talmud. Now he’s going through it for a third time. What a difference it has made to him and his entire family! From where did the initial jolt come? Dare we say that this super accomplishment was borne of jealousy!
How wise is the advice of the Chovos HaLevavos: Get a dose of good jealousy from being around people who are advancing spiritually and you can be spurred to grow endlessly in an area that is in your hands, thanks to jealousy!