FAQ: Jealousy and Envy
What should I do that I feel very unhappy when I see that my friends are more successful in their Avodas Hashem than I am?
Before we discuss the issue itself, we have to pay attention to whether we are dealing here with ‘jealousy’ or ‘envy’. Although they both aren’t good character traits, ‘envy’ is worse. There’s a big difference between the two. Jealousy is when a person thinks to himself, “Why am I not like so-and-so?” because he also wants to do well. But ‘envy’ is “Why is so-and-so successful?” as if to say that it bothers him that this person is successful when he’s not. He therefore looks to find something wrong with the other person, to spot where he’s unsuccessful. He would like to see him trip and fall.
For this reason we have to think carefully what we are looking for in life; we want to bring delight to Hashem. If I don’t merit revealing Hashem enough in the world, at least let there be someone else that will be. In the end I might also gain, because I might be inspired further in Avodas Hashem when there will be more holiness in the world through someone else’s Avodah.
Therefore, before we talk about unhappiness that comes about from jealousy of others, we should be careful that at least we shouldn’t take satisfaction in their downfall. On the contrary, we have to be full of love and compassion on all of Klal Yisroel, and especially with our close friends, and hope for all of them to be as Hashem wants.
The Rebbe very much praised the ability to be pleased about one’s friend’s Avodas Hashem even though he himself hasn’t been successful. It’s very common that a person should be pained to see others being successful, especially when he’s on a low. (Sichos Haran 119)
What’s the solution for this?
There is a simple solution: to pray for another’s success in that matter which he himself wants to do well. This can help bring a person to a real nullification before Hashem (Likutei Mohoran 22). In the beginning it’s difficult to pray for someone else to be successful, but he should still try to force himself a little to pray for him.
In addition, through praying for his friend’s success in Avodas Hashem, he will cleanse his own wishes, making them purer and more Heavenly focused. He won’t only be thinking about his own personal success, but about Hashem being revealed in the world. Thus, Hashem will help him so that his wishes will be accepted, bringing him to merit true Avodas Hashem.
After we have strengthened ourselves in valuing other people’s success, let’s now discuss jealousy, the feeling of ‘When will I be like him?’
We must be very careful to run away from any thoughts of jealousy. This is one of the greatest causes of people to be distanced from Hashem, and it brings people down to the point where they have no ability to focus on the World to Come nor the state of mind of living with Hashem (Likutei Mohoran I 54).
We have to strengthen ourselves very much in our Emunah to know that each person has a specific job in this world which no one else has. Like a large machine which has many screws; each screw and part is an essential part of the machine, and without it the machine wouldn’t be able to operate. We can imagine that if one screw would want to go into the place of another screw, not only wouldn’t it be able to fit because of the size of the other screw’s hole, but also its own hole would remain empty. The entire machine would be worthless.
We need to know that the same thing is in regards to the special mission which each person has which is fitting just for him. Every person has his talents and surroundings which he was born into and grew up with, and tests and trials which he had to pass. The entire world depends on him fulfilling his own mission and to serve Hashem with the tools which he has, not with someone else’s tools.
But again, this is all only when one truly tries encouraging himself to seek Hashem’s will. I.e what does Hashem want from ‘me’, ‘This is my job and that is someone else’s’.
How should we understand Chazal’s saying, ‘Jealousy amongst the wise increases wisdom’?
Everything in the world can be used for good and can also be used to ruin. Everything has a good side and a bad side.
Of course, in order to find motivation in Avodas Hashem it is good to keep the company of good friends who will increase one’s desire and aspirations to emulate their ways – a form of jealousy which increases wisdom.
But we have to be careful not to ruin anything with this trait of jealousy, meaning, we shouldn’t want to be exactly like someone else, because no two people are alike. Chazal say “Many tried to do like Rashbi and were unsuccessful.” The Baal Shem Tov explains that this was because they made the mistake of trying to reach Rashbi’s spiritual level and imitate him, and didn’t focus on giving Hashem satisfaction.
The positive form of jealousy is when a person receives from other people a general inspiration for Avodas Hashem, to see that Avodas Hashem is a relevant, possible thing, and that we can come close to Hashem from within this stormy world.
But this inspiration has to be within one’s own account with Hashem, according to his own talents and capabilities, and not in relation to competition with others. To think, “How can I be so far while someone else is advancing?”, would be real pride. (Likutei Halachos Pesach 9)
We have to be very careful about this. The same way there can be obstacles towards Avodas Hashem from the Yetzer Hara, it is also possible for close friends to become obstacles by their causing us to feel dejected when we see their advancement, and we start to imagine that they are ‘cutting us off’. We have to strengthen ourselves in our belief in our own Avodah, and to remember that it’s for sure very dear in Hashem’s eyes. We don’t know Hashem’s calculations, who’s greater, who puts in more effort, and in what way Hashem takes satisfaction.
Don’t worry that maybe because of this you will weaken in Avodas Hashem. If a person is seriously looking to do Hashem’s will, and prays that Hashem draw him close, without any feelings of dejection from others, nor that his Avodah should just be the imitation of others, then he will truly advance little by little according to his abilities.