Dealing with Adversity-Parashas Yisro: Do Not Covet

Last week’s discussion on bitachon served as an ideal segue into this week’s topic of eradicating kinah, envy. Internalizing that Hashem is in control and knows our needs better than we do makes envy almost impossible.

In this week’s parashah we read the Aseres Hadibros, which conclude with the prohibition of Lo Sachmod:do not covet someone else’s possessions.

Envying someone’s possessions is not only a concern of technically violating the Torah prohibition of Lo Sachmod. Coveting another’s item — the Torah mentions his house, his ox, his donkey — is against the spirit of the law. 

The Imrei Imes of Ger, zy”a, was once visiting someone and spotted a certain rare sefer in his vast library that he, even his own large library, did not own. The host said it was his honor to present the sefer to the Rebbe as a gift. The Rebbe demurred, explaining that this was a wonderful opportunity for him to fulfill the mitzvah of Lo Sachmod.

Mesilas Yesharim notes that one with envy gains nothing and does not take anything away from the person he envies.

In Sefer Orchos Tzaddikim, the Shaar Hakinah — the Gate of Envy— begins by telling us that kinah is a middah from which no one escapes. Yet, with the proper perspective and strategies, it is possible to uproot this destructive middah.

Rabi Elazar HaKappar in Pirkei Avos (4:28) tells us: “Hakinah, hataavah, v’hakavod motzi’in es ha’adam min ha’olam — Envy, physical desires and pursuit of honor remove a person from the world.” Tiferes Yisrael comments on this Mishnah that envy takes us out of both Olam Hazeh and Olam Haba.

That our Olam Haba is impacted by envy is understandable because we are penalized for destructive behavior and attitudes in the next world. How does it affect our Olam Hazeh? The answer is that envy eats away at us and can grow into an obsession that continuously gives us no peace and makes it difficult to be confident in our skin,

The Gemara in Shabbos (152b) explains the passuk “…Rakov atzamos kinah, envy causes rotting of the bones” (Mishlei 14:30). Usually, when a person is niftar, the body decomposes but the bones do not decompose; a skeleton remains. But Mishlei tells us the envious person’s bones do decompose; conversely, one who is free of jealousy will be spared this fate.

Rabbi Dovid Schwartz, z”l, was a noted Rav, educator and writer, and an esteemed Hamodia staff member, whose yahrtzeit is this week on 22 Shevat. In a lecture he noted something fascinating on his passuk. The word etzem, bone, is related to the word atzmius, essence. The essence of the body is its skeletal structure. Rakov atzamos kinah therefore can mean that because of envy one’s bones will rot — or one’s essence will deteriorate. He also cited an explanation that the letters of the word rakov reish, kof, beis — when transposed, spell kever, grave. The grave is the antithesis of humanity at its zenith. The message is that envy diminishes the very character of an individual.

Envy is a formidable foe but there are ways to combat it. Here are three suggestions in terms of a battle plan to conquer envy.

-Work to strengthen bitachon, as was discussed last week.

-If there are people you envy, communicate with them in a friendly and positive manner. Express words of joy about their success or happy occasion. Try to help them. Go to the other extreme of envy to uproot the destructive feelings. At the very least, refrain from speaking negatively about them and their good fortune.   

-Focus on your blessings. There is a saying “Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it” — the problem is that it may come in an undesirable way. A couple flew to Eretz Yisrael for winter vacation in the coach section of the airplane. The wife told her husband, “Those people in business class look so comfortable; if only we could do that.” While in Eretz Yisrael she broke her leg and was compelled to fly back in business class since she needed the extra space due to her injury. Had she focused on the pleasure of simply being able to go on vacation and the zechus of being in Eretz Yisrael, things may have turned out differently.

The Gemara tells us (Chullin 38b), Ein adam nogei’a bamuchan lachaveiro — a person cannot encroach upon what is set aside for his friend. No person may touch that which Hashem set aside for someone else; everyone receives what is designated for him. By internalizing the lessons we discussed and undertaking a serious study of Orchos Tzaddikim and other sefarim that discuss envy, we are well on our way to eradicating a most bothersome force in our lives.

Rabbi Yosef Gesser is a longtime writer for Hamodia Newspaper as well as an inspirational speaker on various topics, including dealing with adversity. He can be reached at

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