Is Being Jealous of Others Good or Bad?
Jewish Wisdom to Help Transform Jealousy Into a Catalyst of Self-Improvement
In Jewish thought, we want to have the right balance between two extreme character traits. The Hebrew word for character trait is “mida”, which means “amount”. We aspire to acquire a character trait that is not absenting oneself nor exaggerating ones self. Rambam, influenced by Aristotle, has his well- known approach of moderation, where one should always be governed by the “mida beinonit”. Jealousy is no exception. We want to have the right amount of jealousy.
Men do not desire merely to be rich, but to be richer than other men.” ~John Stuart Mill
The Tenth Commandment: “You Shall Not Covet”
The last of the ten commandments is: “You shall not covet the home of your fellow, nor his spouse or servants or animals, or anything that belongs to your fellow.”
Does this mean feeling jealous is prohibited?
Well, technically, this commandment does not prohibit the general thoughts of craving someone else’s belongings. These thoughts, however, can cause one to formulate and execute of a plan to acquire these belongings. It can lead to theft and adultery and other transgressions of Biblical laws. That is the forbidden part.
One famous example of this from the bible, is of king Ahab and Jezebel who coveted Navot’s vineyard, which he inherited from his ancestors. This caused them to eventually murder and then take possession of the vineyard.
Jealousy - Building VS Destroying
The Talmud says that “Jealousy, desire and honor remove a person from the world”. Jealousy is a very strong force that can be used in the wrong way. A person can become so consumed with jealousy where his life becomes a no-life, bitter and unsatisfying. Worse even, it can actually cause him to commit terrible crimes, as we mentioned above.
On the other hand, the Talmud also states that “Jealousy among authors increases wisdom”. More scholars will take to writing, leading to more wisdom. This is also understood to apply to all areas of spiritual improvement, not just writing/learning. This jealousy means being aware of others’ ethical and spiritual achievements for the purpose of emulating or even “outdoing” them.
Without Jealousy (in it’s correct form) the world would not exist; Sages teach us a man “wouldn’t plant a vineyard, get married or build a home”. Jealousy leads individuals and society to reach great achievements and develop and improve the world.
How Can I tell if my Jealousy is the good kind? :)
Is your feeling of jealousy bringing you down? Are you dwelling on it? Are you somehow trying to bring your peer down in your thoughts or even formulating a plan to do so? These may indicate you are using Jealousy as a negative force, rather than a good building force.
Or alternatively, is this jealousy giving you energy to take action and do more? Does it make you motivated to become more like your peer in your own life or to work at getting something he has. Are you telling yourself- “This person does this good thing, I will do the same”?
How to Transform Jealousy Into a Catalyst of Self-Improvement
1. Understand Your Jealousy-
The feeling of jealousy is a great indicator to show you what you want and what to aspire for. You wouldn't be jealous of something distant from you or not related you. The jealous feeling indicates it is for you. What exactly am I jealous of? What is my true desire? I do the analysis then move on and take what I need and try to incorporate into my own life. Follow your Envy.
2. Believe In The Ultimate Justice
Ok, that sounds nice. But what if it’s something I can’t get right now? Or something I am trying to get but still waiting for?
We then elevate our perspective and believe in a higher power. We are here on a personal mission in life by the creator and he provides us with exactly what we need to accomplish this mission.
It may look like we’re all doing the same thing roughly around the same age- going to school, getting married, getting a job, having kids, then raising the kids who go to school.. and so on and so forth. Those are just external circumstances that help us on our mission. In reality, our soul is here on a very unique mission. We are born to our specific family with our unique personality and led through our unique circumstances.
Also here, a balance is required between aspiring, wanting the most and the best from life and accepting the path/circumstances the creator has in store for me.
3. Focus Inward, Connect to Who You Are
We tend to compare to our friends and peers. When we compare, we either feel superior or inferior. Constant comparison will definitely lead to dissatisfaction. Because there will ALWAYS be someone who has more then you, or at least to appear to have more than you.
You may feel jealous because you don’t think you’re good enough. Strengthen your self worth. I have intrinsic worth, no matter what my circumstances are.
When you connect to your inner self, you know who you are. You don’t dwell (at least not as much) on other’s. I found myself dwelling on classmate’s LinkedIn. Everyone seemed so successful and “ahead” of me. As I connected to myself and focused on me, who I am, the less I compared. Other life path’s are not relevant.
4. Think Win-Win, the 4th Habit of Highly Effective People
One of Stephen covey’s famous 7 habits of highly effective people. The habit shifts our minds into an abundance mentality- the paradigm that there is plenty out there for everybody. Everyone can win, there is plenty of success to go around.
According to Covey, instead of focusing on victory over others, we should strive for success in effective interaction that brings mutually beneficial results to everyone involved.
5. Envy the Right People and the Right Things
Jealousy is such a strong force in humans, without it men “wouldn’t plant a vineyard, get married or build a home”. Our sages teach us we should use it for “heavens sake”, to do good. We can achieve this by being envious of good doers and Torah scholars.
“אל יקנא לבך בחטאים, כי אם ביראת ה” (=“Do not let your heart envy sinners”) ~Proverbs
6. Gratitude, Compare Yourself to Less Fortunate
These are a few practical tips. Practice gratitude. Think how many good cards you were handed. Think about those less fortunate, with far worse problems. Your problems may seem big to you right now, try putting them in a perspective of your life span.
Also, realize that you don’t always have all the information about someone else. What are their real challenges? What are they going through? We look at people’s lives from the “outside” and it looks like they have the perfect job/wife/car/house/personality.. Social media exacerbated this. People display their happiest moment picture, while you’re living your real (and unique!) life.
“What‘s it to me? That is his doing, and this is my doing, why should we discuss others” ~The Clever& the simple Tale, Rebbe Nachman of Breslev
7 habits of highly effective People ~Stephen Covey