Thoughts on Envy–Reflections on Shavuot

Admittedly, I’ve got “factory-defective” wiring, but I’ve never really understood jealousy. When I learn of someone’s good fortune it tends to make me happy because, if for no other reason, it reminds me that these potential successes and joys and milestones exist in this world and that they’re accessible to me as well.

On Shavuot we emphasize the phrase,  זמן מתן תורתנו (Z’man Matan Torateinu), the time of receiving our Torah. Why the exclusivity? Aren’t we tasked with being אור לגויים (Or L’Goyim), a light to the nations (based on Isaiah 49:6)? (Torah, תורה, contains two key letters, ור, of אור (Or), light–furthermore, in Aramaic it’s referred to as אורייתא (Oreita), further emphasizing the concept of light. Kabbalistically, in the Creation of the Universe, the primordial light is called אור כי טוב (Or Ki Tov), Light which is the essence of Goodness, another reference to Torah which was later publicly revealed by Moshe Rabbeinu (on Shavuot) as a Tikkun, repair, of the damage caused by Adam’s sin.)

Perhaps part of the answer, at least, is that while the Torah is, indeed, given to each of us individually (and not limited only to the festival of Shavuot, but every day (see previous article), we each need to interact with it individually, to “process” it in terms of our unique Neshama, soul configuration, as preparation to sharing it with the world, acting as Or L’Goyim, Light to the Nations.  Likewise, we need to process and develop the brachot, blessings, good fortune that comes to us, preparatory of transmitting them to the larger world, transforming our receiving into our giving and thus fulfilling our ultimate charge of imitating God.

God, in His Infinity, did not create a static, zero-sum world, but rather a win-win world. When we celebrate others’ blessings, we know that the benefit isn’t lost in a “black hole” of that person’s ego or narcissism.  Nor is it detracted from what is left available for us to enjoy. Rather, it adds to all of our lives. When we celebrate another’s success, we add our light to the light that they will add and that’s one very simple way, no years-of-preparation necessary, to dedicate our lives to being Or L’Goyim.

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5 Responses to Thoughts on Envy–Reflections on Shavuot

  1. Nathan Lopes Cardozo says:

    Many thanks. Beautiful, nathan

  2. shocheradam says:

    I make a distinction between jealousy and envy, myself. Jealousy is “I want what that person has and I don’t want them to have it too,” where envy is “I wish I also had what that person has.” I think of the two, jealousy is the more toxic, because the goal isn’t just to get what the other person has but to deprive the other person of having it. Envy may simply motivate us to move towards achieving what the other person has, for ourselves, without damaging them.

    As far as being a chosen people, it cuts both ways. We were chosen, yes, but we also chose to say “yes” to the obligations as well as the benefits of being Or L’Goyim. And as I understand it, that happened after several other nations turned G-d down and said “no thanks!” Sometimes I think that the phrase “Chosen People” is deeply misunderstood by both Jews and non-Jews; Jews, because it can be misinterpreted to mean we’re somehow special-er than the rest of G-d’s children, and non-Jews because it can be misinterpreted to mean that Jews think we’re somehow above everyone else.

    • While I don’t at all mention the concept of “chosen-ness”, in terms of Torah it means we’ve been chosen to perform a vital function.
      If several thousand years of history has taught us nothing else, we obviously haven’t been “chosen” to be privileged in this world.

  3. Mr. Cohen says:

    Yalkut Meam Loez commentary on Kohelet, chapter 10, verse 2:

    Look at those who are less than you in wealth and
    remember [with gratitude to G_d] your advantage.

    Look at those who are greater than you in character traits
    [or good deeds] and remember that you are less than them
    [to motivate yourself to improve].

    Yalkut Meam Loez commentary on Kohelet was written by Rabbi Shmuel Yerushalmi, following the death of Rabbi Yaakov Culi in 1732 CE.

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