Rabbinic Reflections: Issue 139

December 16, 2022 (22 Kislev 5783)

Can Jealousy Be Good?

Dear Holy Friends,

I hope this correspondence finds you doing well and in good health. We look forward to seeing you this Saturday morning for services, which begin at 10:30am in the sanctuary. The service will, as always, be available on our regular Zoom prayer link.

In addition to services this Shabbat, we will gather for a traditional Hannukah candle lighting, celebrating with the greater Fort Lee community, on the first night of the holiday, Sunday Dec. 18 at 5:00pm. Please join us for words of welcome, festive songs, and thoughtful grab bags prepared by our dedicated shul volunteers.

This week’s Torah reading is taken from Parashat Vayeishev and leads the reader into a new section of the Genesis narrative, the Yosef saga.

In just a few short chapters we read four familiar tales: the presentation of the coat of many colors and the youthful dreams of Yosef, the selling of Yosef into slavery, the salacious seduction attempts by Potiphar’s wife and finally, Yosef’s powerful dream interpretations for both Pharoah’s baker and butler while in prison.

While the sequence of events is later described as a predetermined divine plan allowing HaShem to reveal His omnipotence through the ten plagues and His omnipresence through the theophany at Sinai (wait until we get to the Book of Shemot!), the entire plot originally stems from the brothers’ jealousy of Yosef.

Like many Middot, or personality traits, Mussar literature teaches us that the trait of jealousy can be used for either a positive or negative outcome.

Chovot Halevavot, a 15th century anonymous German text, reminds us that when an individual is overcome by jealousy or envy, that individual can both figuratively and literally be taken out of the world.

רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר הַקַּפָּר אוֹמֵר הַקִּנְאָה מוֹצִיאִין אֶת הָאָדָם מִן הָעוֹלָם

Yosef’s brothers were so affected by their jealousy that they acted in a manner both malicious and cruel. Regardless of the theological justification, the extent of the siblings’ callousness is reprehensible, and certainly not behavior that their father (Yaakov), grandfather (Yitzchak), great-grandfather (Avraham), or any religious tradition, would ever condone.

On the other hand, like other traits, jealousy in moderation and appropriate application can be used for betterment and growth.

טפי קנאת סופרים תרבה חכמה

Here the text teaches that “a drop of jealousy amongst the scholars can lead to greater wisdom.” When inspired by those wiser than us, we can choose to direct that jealousy to a greater passion for learning, reading, analyzing, and exploring, in order to better ourselves and the world.

May Shabbat, which encourages us to consider the miracles of creation, remind us that all elements of God’s universe, both physical and emotional, have the potential for good or bad. Our challenge is to direct all of our labors towards making the world a better place.

Rabbi Eric Wasser, EdD, Hon.DM
Tel: 201-562-5277

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