What’s so Bad About Jealousy
This week’s parsha is one of the most important that we read all year, because it contains God giving the Jewish people the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. These commandments contain the cornerstones of Jewish belief and have held our people together for our entire existence. Each of them is fundamentally important to who we are and what we believe God wants of us as individuals and as a people. The first five speak to our relationship with God: I am God, you shall have no other gods before Me, you shall not take My name in vain, remember to keep Shabbat, and honoring one’s parents — God’s extensions in bringing each of us in to the world. The next five govern our relationships with one another: don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness against your neighbor — and the last one, not to covet anything of one’s neighbor’s. That is, not to be jealous of another person.
Why is not being jealous so important? Isn’t it a natural emotion, to want what we can’t have? How does one keep oneself from being jealous? And why is it so bad to be jealous, anyway?
This commandment contains the meaning of the entire “Jewish people” endeavor. It’s easy to avoid murdering, stealing, adultery, and being a false witness. But jealousy is much harder to keep oneself from doing, and one would think it’s much less of a big deal. How is being jealous hurting anyone? The answer is that jealousy hurts each of us, internally, as a people. We can’t be expected to cohere as a nation if we harbor secret resentments against one another, if we fundamentally see our fellow Jewish people as “others” to begin with. Our fate in the desert was inextricably bound with one another, which persists to this day. Jealousy may not seem like a big deal, but it is corrosive to human relationships. It leads to the fundamental mistrust of one another that yields murder, stealing, adultery, and being a false witness. It all starts with seeing ourselves as more worthy than our fellow human beings, coveting what they have instead of cultivating what we have. The commandment against jealousy is given last not because it’s the least important, but so it’s the last impression of the commandments we have. The other nine are meaningless if, in our hearts, we see others’ success and good fortune as being in opposition to our own. The flipside of this, of course, is the mitzvah of sharing what we have with one another, to lift up each other however we can. Let’s take this final lesson from the Ten Commandments this week and be more mindful of our tendency towards jealousy going forward, being grateful for what we have, and considering how we can reach out toward others.
Questions for the Shabbat Table:
- When has jealousy impacted you in your own life?
- Do we have any responsibility when others are jealous of us? Why or why not?