“I feel so bad for them,” Mr. Weissbard said. “They don’t have anything.”
“I agree that their situation is unfortunate, but I’m not so sure I feel sorry for them,” Mr. Green said. “They aren’t motivated and don’t do much to help themselves. Don’t they see what others have and how most people live?”
“I learned that envy is a negative trait — and you’re blaming them for not being jealous?” Mr. Weissbard countered.
“I was taught that every trait has some positive and negative aspects,” Mr. Green said, “and jealousy is no different.”
Envy takes on many forms and is prompted by different feelings. There are those who want to outdo others, and, therefore, envy whatever the others have that they themselves lack. This “Gotta be Number One” jealousy is looked upon as a sign of extremely poor character. Our rabbis teach that one should employ extreme measures to totally eliminate this type of envy. One should realize that what one possesses has absolutely nothing to do with another who lacks that trait or possession.
On the other hand, envy can evoke a positive reaction. One who desires knowledge or wealth for its own sake — not because they need more than others possess, but rather because they admire the potential for productive use of such assets — will be motivated by the success of another in amassing these commodities. One who studies Torah may — in a permitted, healthy way — desire more knowledge simply because he sees another has succeeded in his learning pursuits. Competitiveness may result in harm when motivated by the wrong reasons, but it can result in success without harmful side effects when prompted by pure intentions.
One More Second: Another Thought for the Day
For whereas women are largely exempt from many other areas of Torah study, since “the challenges of daily life and its distractions” (i.e., raising a family and maintaining a household) excuse them from it; and whereas many men who are distracted by their professions are exempt from Torah study (for the most part, though they’d need to set aside time for it every day), that’s not true of Mussar. Everyone is charged with its study every single day. (Harav Yisrael Salanter, in a letter)
Rabbi Raymond Beyda serves in the Sephardic Community in Brooklyn, N.Y. He lectures to audiences all over the world. He is author of the book 1 Minute With Yourself: A Minute a Day to Self-Improvement, Sephardic Press, 2008.