Thursday, January 23, 2014

Envy is a Good Thing.

As we move toward Pesach, it is season for the "have nots" to resent the "haves."  The have nots are starting to worry about Pesach.  The expense, bringing the children and grandchildren in from out of town, putting them up, the crowding, the matza, the meat, the amazingly inflated costs of everything from paper towels to cocoa, new clothes, shoes..... it's endless.  And the car needs looking at.

And your neighbors are going to Cancun.  Or Switzerland.  Or Puerto Rico or Banff or Whistler.  Their whole family, a few days before and after, too.  All they have to do is remember to sell their chametz and take their Shabbos clothes and bathing suits.  Oh, and we'd really appreciate it if you could take in any advertising flyers that accumulate on our porch, so people shouldn't know we're out of town?  Their daughter is holding in shidduchim, and they're beating shadchanim off with a stick- the best boys in Ner Israel and Chaim Berlin, meyuchasim, sons of Roshei Yeshiva, a guy with a built-in shtelleh, a pre-med student with Semicha.

You?  You can't get shadchanim to return your calls.  The one that does wants a retainer before he'll even talk to you.  You want a boy that's going to learn for a few years?  Do you have half a million dollars to put in escrow?  What, you thought you can raise babies without money?

Do your married kids need help with income?  Is the frustration and the tight budget shterring their shalom bayis?  Where are you going to get the money to help them?  From your "retirement account?"  Your neighbor, of course, has a thriving business, and his son and son in law are invited to step in and learn how to be a productive part of the business.

It's not like you can do much about it.  If you're young enough, you can use the envy to motivate you to buckle down and find a way to succeed.  But if you have a career, and responsibilities, and you can't just throw everything to the wind and risk being an enterpreneur or go to law school and become a partner in a white shoe law firm or tech startup, your best hope is the lottery.

To throw some fuel on the fire, here are some lines from the current ads:  Remember, after this Pesach, your wife wouldn't feel like a wrung out shmatteh, because YOU are a fit husband and provider and you paid for a relaxing and beautiful Yomtov.  Her dreams of what her life would be like came true.  She's lucky she married you.
  • ...5-Diamond world-class luxury resort that affords our guests the most luxurious, stimulating, adventurous and delicious Passover....
  • ...blending the strictest standards of Kashrut with the most exacting demands in luxury....
  •  ...everything you desire in a vacation . . . at a most reasonable price. Glatt Kosher travel has never before been this fun, or affordable!
  • ...the timeless luxury of a Five Diamond...Tantalize all your senses with innovative, gourmet Passover cuisine....
  • ...the only hotel in the Adriatic coast to have a private beach....
  • ....World class Jewish entertainers…the only luxury hotel on the Croisette in Cannes to have a rooftop terrace with a heated swimming pool ....

It burns like a fire in your heart.  Resentment, envy, shame, and it's not going to get any better.  It gets worse and worse.  Of course you can tell yourself that it's not your fault, it's just mazal.  Or that it's a kapara for something your neshama did in a previous gilgul.  A real ma'amin will not have these feeling at all!  We say שעשה לי כל צרכי!  Hashem gives us what we  need, and we should be שמח חלקו!  And what happened to לא תחמוד!  All true.  I'm sure there are people on Earth that feel that way.  I even know several, including my extraordinary wife.  Good luck with that.

And I want you to know that most people- not all, but most people- that complain about the terrible extravagance and mosros in Pesach programs are just expressing their envy, they can't fahrgin others their success and tranquility.  As Ashleigh Brilliant says,  "I want either less corruption, or more chance to participate in it."  So, the unfortunate truth is that we're not all baalei mussar, and all this talk about excess is just our self-deluding code for "not fair."

But here's some advice.  Use that burning resentment, use that envy, in a positive way.  Remember, as the Mesillas Yesharim says, life is brief, but the afterlife is forever.  In this world, you can tell yourself mazal, unfair advantage, the parents' zechus, you can say whatever you want.  When you come to Olam Haba, there are no excuses.  All the excuses and advantages are discounted, and if the kid you grew up with is sitting on a golden throne, and you and your wife are sitting on a lawn chair, it is your fault and your fault alone, it is your failure, and you failed not only yourself but also those that depended on you to be an adam chashuv, a repository of zechusim.  As bad as it is in this world, it will be a million times worse in Olam Haba.  If you think it's terrible being נכווה מחופתו של חברו here, I guarantee you're going to be נכווה much, much more there.

Unlike the rewards of this world, the reward for mitzvos is straightforward.  Sit like a lump, watch TV at night instead of going to the Beis Medrash, and you'll be an grobbeh am haaretz dressed in shmattehs living in a box over a steam vent in Olam Haba.  Forever. Every moment of bittul zman is going to bring you eternal pain and regret.  תורה, עבודה, וגמילות חסדים, make an effort, and you are rewarded.   לפום צערא אגרא.   And אנו עמלים ומקבלים שכר for the עמלות.  You're born an illui and you know how to learn?  Big deal.  You're born simple and you sweat away to learn and understand and remember the little you know, then you're the Rashkebahag in Olam Haba.  You're Bill Gates and you give millions?  לפום גמלא שחנא.  You have little and you scrimp in order to give tzedaka and do chesed anyway?  You're the guest of honor at an eternal banquet.

The mussar haskeil is that when you feel the jealousy, the envy, the burning shame and despair, use it in a positive way!  Use it to push yourself to earn Olam Haba.  When you see that ad for the carefree Pesach vacation in the five star hotel, and you feel the blood leaving your face, remember- none of the coping mechanisms you have now are going to help later.  Seize that rush of shame and resentment and frustration and commit yourself to be kovei'a ittim, join the city chesed organization, tutor an orphan, join the chevra kadisha- not so that you can beat your friends, but so that you don't spend eternity regretting lost opportunities.  It's now or never.

Rabbi Eli Mansour expresses this idea beautifully.  Go to minute 40.

Here's the Mesillas Yesharim:

והנה יש מהפתאים המבקשים רק להקל מעליהם שיאמרו: למה נייגע עצמנו בכל כך חסידות ופרישות? הלא די לנו שלא נהיה מהרשעים הנדונים בגיהינום, אנחנו לא נדחק עצמנו לכנס בגן-עדן לפני ולפנים. אם לא יהיה לנו חלק גדול - יהיה לנו חלק קטן, אנו די לנו בזה ולא נכביד עול משאנו בעבור זאת.
אמנם שאלה אחת נשאל מהם: היוכלו כל כך על נקל לסבול בעולם הזה, החולף, לראות אחד מחבריהם מכובד ומנושא יותר מהם ומושל עליהם, וכל שכן אחד מעבדיהם או מן העניים הנבזים ושפלים בעיניהם, ולא יצטערו ולא יהיה דמם רותח בקרבם? לא, וודאי! כי הנה עינינו הרואות כל עמל האדם להינשא על כל מי שיוכל, ולשים מקומו בין הרמים יותר, כי היא קנאת איש מרעהו, ואם יראה חברו מתרומם והוא נשאר שפל, וודאי שמה שיסבול הוא מה שיוכרח לסבלו, כי לא יוכל למנוע ולבבו יתעשת בקרבו.

מעתה, אם כך קשה עליהם להיות שפלים מזולתם במעלות המדומות והכוזבות, שאין השפלות בם אלא לפנים ולא ההנשא אלא שווא ושקר, איך יוכלו לסבול שיראו עצמם שפלים יותר מאותם האנשים עצמם אשר הם עתה שפלים מהם, וזה במקום המעלה האמיתית והיקר הנצחי?! שאף על פי שעכשיו אין מכירין אותו ואת ערכו על כן לא יחושו אליו, אבל בזמנו וודאי שיכירוהו לאמיתו לצערם ולבושתם, וודאי שלא יהיה להם זה אלא צער גדול ונצחי.
הרי לך שאין הסבלנות הזה אשר הם דורשים לעצמם להקל מהם חומר העבודה, אלא פיתוי כוזב שמפתה יצרם אותם, ולא דבר אמיתי כלל.

וכבר לא היה מקום לפיתוי זה להם, לולי היו רואים אמיתת העניין, אבל לפי שאין מבקשים אותו והולכים ושוגים לרצונם, הנה לא יוסר מהם פיתויים עד הזמן אשר לא יועיל להם, כי לא יהיה עוד בידם לתקן את אשר שחתו.
והוא מה שאמר שלמה המלך עליו השלום (קהלת ט, י): "כל אשר תמצא ידך לעשות בכוחך עשה כי אין מעשה וחשבון ודעת וגו'",

והיינו: כי מה שאין האדם עושה עד שהכוח מסור בידו מבוראו, הוא הכוח הבחירי המסור לו כל ימי חייו, שהוא בהם בחירי ומצווה לעשות, הנה לא יוכל לעשותו עוד בקבר ובשאול, שאין הכוח הזה עוד בידו, כי מי שלא הרבה מעשים טובים בחייו, אי אפשר לעשותם אחרי כן, ומי שלא חשב חשבון מעשיו, לא יהיה לו זמן לחשבו אז. ומי שלא התחכם בעולם הזה לא יתחכם בקבר, וזהו שאמר: "כי אין מעשה וחשבון ודעת וחכמה בשאול אשר אתה הולך שמה".

For a translation, see the Shechem site.


  1. You can start the discussion WAY earlier BB 21a first words on the amud: קנאת סופרים תרבה חכמה

  2. I wanted to focus on Pesach. It's a tough time of year for many people, and I thought it would be productive to help people to think about what really matters in the long run. It probably doesn't belong here, but I don't want to make another website for mussar.

  3. If you the type person whose emotions can be controlled by thinking about olam ha'ba, then I doubt you are the type person consumed by materialistic envy to being with. It's a catch-22.

    I think your suggestion ignores the fact that religion is a social phenomenon. Yisro had to leave home and join Klal Yisrael because belief alone is not enough -- you need a likeminded community. If the masses are busy turning Judaism into a cult of materialism to the point that you no longer feel that your values are shared by the community at large, then locking yourself in a box and saying over and over that your portion of olam ha'ba will be bigger than everyone else's will only exacerbate the problem, not make you feel any better.

  4. I hear what you're saying. I don't agree, and I think it's clear in the Mesillas Yesharim. I think plenty of people want to enjoy olam hazeh and are jealous of their neighbors' happiness and success, but are also real ma'aminim and care very much about olam haba.

    In any case, I think that the best mussar is Tochacha- in the sense of proving to a person from his own behavior that he needs to make adjustments. I have a friend that totally messed up his life, and as a defense, he tells himself and others that, as Iyov said at one point, that our behavior is deterministic, and so his failures are not his fault. In his case, it's probably healthier for him to say this instead of having to actually look into the mirror of honesty. I don't believe that he really means it. But when I asked him if he ever came to a point where he had to make a decision, and he could have gone either way, but he chose the right thing even though it was harder, he agreed that he had, which, of course, put the lie to his argument. Here, too, the idea is that if you're of a jealous nature, at least recognize that reality and use that to motivate yourself.

  5. I think your vort is totally right on. I am for sure born simple and I sweat away to learn and understand and remember the little I know, Could you please cite the section of Mesillas Yasharim you quoted in your post. I am down to my last kid and our family is doing great and wonderful things I never dreamed possible in the Olan Ha Torah here and in Eretz Yisroel. I do not think I am jealous.... I just feel like I am not doing enough to help all the married kids. That is my anguish and that starts eating at my self esteem. I actually feel bad for people that go away for Paysach.
    Any way, great post and let us regular folk now the cite if you could

  6. I put a link to a translation of the Mesillas Yesharim at the end of the post.

    Thank you for writing- as I said, I hear that from my wife, too, but it's rare, and it's refreshing to hear from someone else that really means it. I don't mean this ironically- but your spirituality is enviable.