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by Rabbi Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler

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Vayetze - III

Jealousy Can Be a Tool for Spiritual Growth

And when Rachel saw that she bore Ya'akov no children, Rachel was jealous of her sister; and she said to Ya'akov, "Give me children, and if not, it is as if I am dead." (Bereshis 30:1)

Efrayim Lebowitz, one of the students from the Chofetz Chaim's yeshivah in Radin, was accused of spying for Germany, and he was put on trial in Russia. His gentile lawyer asked the Chofetz Chaim to testify as a character witness for his client. The Chofetz Chaim agreed and traveled to the city of witbask, where the trial was taking place.

After the Chofetz Chaim's testimony, the lawyer wished to demonstrate his witness' great piety to the judge, and so he told the following story:

"Once, when the Chofetz Chaim was in Warsaw, he was approached by a man with a five ruble note in his hands, who claimed that he owed the Chofetz Chaim a ruble for a book he had once bought from him. The Chofetz Chaim refused the money, saying that he did not remember such a debt, and it would be better to approach his accountant, who might have a record of the debt. After receiving this reply, the man changed his tune, this time claiming that he wanted to give a ruble as a donation. The Chofetz Chaim said he did not accept presents, but if he so wished, he could donate the money to the yeshivah in Radin.

The person agreed to do that, but when the Chofetz Chaim took out his wallet to give him change, he grabbed the wallet and ran away. The Chofetz Chaim began to run after him, shouting to him as he ran away that he could have the money and that he forgave him completely. Furthermore, he would not allow anyone to chase the thief.

The judge interrupted the lawyer saying, "My dear advocate, do you really believe that story?"

"No, I don't, your Honor, I think it is a fable," answered the lawyer.

The judge asked, "If that is the case, why did you bring it as proof in your argument?" The lawyer answered, "Excuse me, your Honor, but can you explain to me why there are not such stories going around about you or me? Don't you think that the creation of such stories about a person testifies to his greatness?"

(K'ztes Ha-Shemesh Bi-Gvuraso, p. 200)

Stories about great rabbis like the Chofetz Chaim are a great help for us to become instilled with the will to emulate their inspiring deeds. Similarly, spiritual inspiration can come from our spouses whose good deeds and constructive criticism can raise us to even higher levels.

"And she [Rachel] said to Ya'akov, 'Give me children, etc.' "(1) Rabbi Shemuel the son of Nachman said, "Four are considered as if they are deadů and one of them is someone who has no children, as it is written, 'Give me children, and if not, it is as if I am dead.' "(2)

And when Rachel saw that she bore Ya'akov no children, Rachel was jealous of her sister."(3) Since it is written, "Your heart shall not be jealous of sinners, rather of the fear of heaven the whole day,"(4) how can it say, "and Rachel was jealous of her sister"? The answer is that she was jealous of Leah's good deeds. She said to herself, "If it were not for the fact that Leah was a tzaddekes she would not have given birth."

(Nedarim 64B, Yalkut 127)

Why is someone who does not have children considered as if he were dead? What is wrong with jealousy, and how can a person prevent it when it arises naturally in a person's heart? Is it ever helpful to be jealous? What does it mean to be jealous of the fear of heaven? What did the midrash mean when it said that she was jealous of her sister Leah being a tzaddekes?

The idea that someone who does not have children is considered as if he were dead is that every person knows that he or she will not live forever. We are connected to eternity through our children, who embody the continuation of our lives. Our children resemble us in physical appearance, in our personalities, and they will also inherit our wealth. Therefore, when a person has children, he feels as if he will not die, since his children are going to carry on his life.

When a person is not blessed with children, even while he is alive, he feels as if he is dead. The knowledge that there will be no continuation of his life through his descendants after he dies makes him feel as if death is constantly hovering over him. The solution to such a plight is found in Yeshayahu: "And I will give them a name in My house and in My walls, better than sons and daughters."(5) The prophet is telling us that there is something else in the world that can bring eternity, and that is having a connection to a house of G-d. In other words, if a person can become connected to a house of G-d by building or at least contributing to a yeshivah or a synagogue, then he has something which will live on after he dies which is even greater than having children. By building a house of G-d, a person is binding himself to eternity, since he is providing a place for people to serve G-d and all acts of doing G-d's will have am eternal nature.

The verse tells us, "Jealousy is the cause of the rotting of the bones."(6) This means that when a person is jealous, he will never have any peace, since he will feel the jealousy constantly eating away at him deep inside. The only way that a person can control his jealousy is to work on his trust in G-d. When a person is able to internalize the truth that everything is distributed by G-d, then he has no reason to be jealous. To such a person it will be clear that G-d knows exactly what to give each one of us, and we can be certain that his judgement is just.

"Your heart shall not be jealous of sinners, rather of the fear of heaven the whole day."(7) There is a legitimate place for jealousy when you see other people have more fear of heaven than you. That is healthy jealousy since it causes the person to grow in the right area. Our Sages say, "The jealousy of Torah scholars will cause the proliferation of wisdom."(8) When you see others succeeding in torah, you have a greater desire to do the same yourself.

Rachel, who was barren, was jealous of her sister who had children. But, this was not a simple case of envy for another person's good fortune. Rachel knew that everything is distributed by G-d, and if he had decided to give children to Leah and not her, then it must have been because of her sister's righteousness. This was an incentive for Rachel to try harder to do mitzvos this is appropriate jealousy, since it is spiritually productive and spurs a person on to reach greater and greater heights. This kind of jealousy does no harm at all to a person's well being.

Jealousy Can Cause Problems in Marriage

Jealousy has often been the cause of lack of harmony in marriages. Arguments may begin because a wife may want a new dress or new furniture like her neighbor has, but which the couple really can not afford. Or a husband might want a new car or a bigger house because his friends have them, and then work such long hours that he doesn't see his wife and becomes emotionally distant from her. The moment one spouse wants something which is beyond their means, discontent arises and this leads to arguments. This jealousy causes disruption in married life, and is not healthy for the marriage. It "rots the bones" of a good marriage.

But some examples of positive jealousy in marriage are when you see, for example, that your wife is more righteous than you are and you know that you must improve your midos to catch up with her. Or a wife might see that her husband prays with such great enthusiasm and devotion that she decides to do the same. Or if your spouse shows you love and attention and you decide that you also want to be the initiator of love and devotion. This was the sort of jealousy between Rachel and Leah.

Since a person must constantly strive to reach higher levels of spirituality, the person who is easiest to learn from is our spouse, with whom we have the most contact. We can also ask our spouse to help us as guardians. Ask your spouse to remind you to pray maariv. A wife can ask a husband to check her to see if she is dressed modestly. We should be inviting criticism from our spouses on how to improve and become better people. Since our spouses love us, they will gladly help us move up the ladder towards perfection.

If we can have the kind of jealousy that existed between Rachel and Leah, which is based on a mutual striving for ever higher levels of spiritual perfection, then we are on the road to marital success.

1. Bereshis 30:1
2. Ibid
3. Bereshis 30:1
4. Mishleii 23:17
5. Yishayahu 56:5
6. Mishleii 14:30
7. Mishleii 23:17
8. Bava Basra 21a

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