Yom Kippur is a great time to work on our middos, and one middah that we all have to work on is the middah of jealousy. Sure, there are gedolim who work on their jealousy all the time, but honestly, I wish I had the capabilities they do.
We all get jealous. According to a recent study, “Envious” is the most common personality type, beating “Optimistic,” “Pessimistic,” and “Trustful.”
To explain, let’s use the popular mashal: If you pour four ounces of water into an eight-ounce glass, an optimist would say that it’s half-full, a pessimist would say that it’s half-empty, a trustful person would say, “I don’t know; whatever you think it is,” and an envious person would say, “How come you asked me last?”
Sure, you personally might not get jealous in the sense of wishing you had physical items that other people have. You don’t want your neighbor’s house. Do you know what he pays in real-estate taxes? And where are you going to keep your neighbor’s ox or donkey? Maybe if you had his house … And you’re not even sure that his manservant and womanservant are legal. We’ve basically made our peace with the fact that our neighbor has his stuff and we have ours.
But most people are jealous way more often than you’d think:
- We’re jealous that other people can eat whatever they want and not gain weight. That we know of. It’s not like we sneak up behind them and attempt to lift them, at least not after that one time.
- We’re jealous of anyone who can dance awesomely in the middle of the wedding circle, because when we dance, we look like the steering wheel to our body is being fought over by four very angry people with conflicting ideas over where we should go.
- We’re jealous of anyone who’s still in bed when we have to get up in the morning. That’s not right. They should get up, too. So we’re going to close as many cabinets as we can as loudly as we want, and — “Oh, sorry, did I wake you? I’m making breakfast. Can I get you anything from the cabinets?”
- We’re jealous of people with British accents. Sure, everyone has an accent, but British accents are the best ones. I doubt the British go around sporadically saying things in American accents just because. And then their friends go, “Oh, bother; he does this every fortnight.”
- I’m jealous of good listeners who can absorb an entire story in one telling no matter how long it is. I try to listen, but I’m really thinking about what I’m going to say next. It’s going to be the same story as yours, but slightly better because I’m in it.
Jealousy doesn’t mean just wanting what your neighbor has. You kind of want to know what he has so you know what to aim for. “I want to be a better parent.” “I want to stay in bed for longer.” “I want to put up a better fence.”
For example, I used to be jealous of my second cousins. Every time I told someone that my name was Schmutter, they said, “Oh, are you related to the other Schmutters?”
“Yeah, but we don’t really know them.”
“Oh, they’re such nice people!”
Never mind that when you tell a person that someone else you know is nice, it sounds like you’re saying, “You personally are not nice, but someone else with your name is nice. You remind me of nice people.”
“Thank you! You’re not so nice yourself!”
But then I became a writer, and these days, I’m sure people say to them, “Oh, are you related to the writer? He’s so funny!”
I assume that’s what people say to them. I never talk to them.
So that’s not really jealousy. Jealousy means that you want something that you can’t have — either because someone else has it or because it’s just impossible for you to ever get it. You can be jealous that someone has nicer parents, but you can’t just adopt the guy’s parents. Your own parents would throw a fit.
So you definitely need to work on your jealousy. It’s not easy, because a lot of the advice people give doesn’t impress you. For example, people say that money doesn’t buy happiness.
Well, neither does being broke.
“No,” they say. “The jealousy never ends. If you have $100, you want $200. If you have $200, you want $400.”
But that really applies to everything. If you have four kids, you want eight. If you have eight kids, you want sixteen. If you have sixteen … OK, so it doesn’t apply to everything.
But here’s an idea: Maybe instead of looking critically at the things you have, look critically at the things you don’t have.
For example, in Parashas Vayishlach, we see a key difference between Yaakov and Eisav, where Eisav says, “I have a lot,” and Yaakov says, “I have everything I need.” Yaakov doesn’t say, “Yeah, well, I don’t have 400 men. That would have come in handy.” Because you have to think through it: What are you going to do with 400 men? Sure, they’re useful when you’re going to war against your brother and his 11 little boys, but then what? You have to feed them and clothe them and half of them are gonna want dental… And where are they going to live? Do you want these guys around your kids? Plus, if you have 400, you’re just going to want 800.
It also helps to think of downsides. Like, for example, let’s say you’re jealous that your neighbor has a yacht. Ask yourself: Do I want a yacht because it looks like it will be fun the three times a year that I’m going to use it? Or do I want a yacht because I want the responsibilities of dock fees, storage, maintenance, equipment, and fuel? How do you bring a yacht to the gas station? You wouldn’t even know who to ask.
Well, besides your neighbor.
On the other hand, if you think bad things about whatever someone has that you don’t have, you’re going to start feeling bad for him.
“I got a new boat!”
“Oh, I’m so sorry … We don’t know why the Ribbono shel Olam does what he does.”
Because that’s the other thing; we’re only ever seeing part of the picture. We’re comparing the best part of someone else’s life to the worst part of ours. But we all have strengths. Like sure, the other guy has money, but does he know how to cut his own hair? Probably not.
The gifts that Hashem gives each person are a package deal. Tall people can reach things, and short people don’t bump their heads every time they go down to the basement. Also, no one calls tall people cute, even if they say something cute. Everyone has their gifts, and everyone is secretly jealous of each other, because, like the saying goes, “The grass is always greener on the other side.”
Well, maybe the grass just looks greener when you look at it from afar. And you can’t see the bald spots.
My wife is constantly annoyed by the fact that our neighbor Hershel (who’s not Jewish and doesn’t know how he got the name Hershel, but he’s the third one in his family) has a lawn that is greener and always trimmed shorter than ours. And then we have to run out and mow our lawn, because it’s right up against his, and it looks bad. Never mind that Hershel has only two kids (both named Hershel — OK, I’m kidding), doesn’t pay tuition, and has a cushy job as a fireman-slash-Shabbos goy.
“Um … I forgot to leave my stove on for our three-day holiday.”
It’s kind of like how kids are jealous of adults because we can eat whatever we want and drive wherever we want and go to bed whenever we want. But when you’re an adult, you realize that yes, I can do what I want, but what I want these days is to get my responsibilities done. I mostly just drive to work. But yeah, I can eat what I want! Except on fast days, and when I’m trying to lose weight, and whenever the kids are around.
Kids love being jealous. I can’t tell you how many hours as a parent I’ve spent making sure everyone’s soda is up to the same line on their cups. And if it isn’t, I have to make up a reason on the fly on no sleep. Because I go to bed when I want, right?
Or I can use it to teach them something about jealousy.
“He has more soda than me!”
“Well, maybe he’ll be fatter.”
“Quiet. You have more soda; she’ll be healthier in the long run. You each get something.”
But sometimes adults are jealous of kids. People are always saying, “I wish I had the energy that this kid has to jump around constantly.”
Really? Is all that pent-up energy going to make it easier for you to sit at your desk job all day? And what’s it going to do to your back?
Point is, everyone is jealous of each other, but we don’t discuss it, so we don’t realize that everyone’s jealous of each other. If we realized that, we’d see that no one actually has everything, and then no one would be jealous.
Did that make sense? I’m very tired. I go to bed when I want.
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of five books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.