Minute #659: Good Envy

Envy is a human trait created for our benefit. Without jealous feelings, one might not work to achieve the success and acquire the possessions needed to serve Hashem properly.

In the realm of the spiritual, our Sages teach, “The envy of learned people increases wisdom” (Baba Batra 21a). One who sees the success of another in Torah learning and mitzvah performance should be moved by envy to work harder to grow and surpass his friend. It sounds like a very positive, healthy trait.

On the other hand, the Ten Commandments include “Lo tachmod — Do not covet” as one of the basic principles by which a Torah-observant Jew should live. Not only is it wrong to take another’s possession; it is even forbidden to desire what another has.

If one feels envious of another’s good qualities, are the emotions good or not?

Harav Yosef Hurwitz, the Alter of Novardok, said that if one is motivated to achieve, then the jealous feelings are good. If, however, one is upset because others praise the other person for his success and consider him better than you — then your envy is bad. (Madreigat HaAdam, Tikun Hamidot)

Once the Gerrer Rebbe, Harav Avraham Alter, visited a man who owned a vast library of sefarim. The Rebbe, who himself had a large collection, admired one sefer on the shelves. The host offered the rare sefer as a gift to the distinguished leader of the Gerrer chassidim. The Rebbe declined, saying, “Far be it from me to take your book. This is a unique opportunity for me to fulfill the commandment which forbids envy.”

One should study mussar sefarim to develop the right approach to the material and spiritual acquisitions of others so that all of one’s envy is good.

One More Second: Another Thought for the Day

It’s impossible for a person to function fully without a close friend with whom he can discuss all that happens to him, and who will offer constructive advice. The Talmud (Baba Batra 16b) states: “Either a friend or death.” A wise man said, “A person without a friend is like a left hand without a right one.” (Me’iri, Sefer HaMidot, p. 196)