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The Error of Envy

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The woman whose son was alive was deeply moved out of love for her son and said to the king, "Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don't kill him!"

But the other said, "Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!" 1 Kings 3:26

This Torah portion for this week is Mikeitz, which means "at the end," from Genesis 41:1-44:17, and the Haftorah is from 1 Kings 3:15-4:1.

This week's Haftorah reading contains the well-known story about two prostitutes and one baby, with each woman claiming to be the infant's mother. The two came before King Solomon, who had just been granted divine wisdom, and they awaited judgment. How was Solomon to decide? How could he possibly know which woman was the true mother?

Solomon made use of his amazing understanding of human nature. He suggested that the baby be cut in half so that each mother could have half of the baby. Of course, as we know, the baby would not have survived, but amazingly, one woman agreed to this arrangement. The other woman, however, insisted that the baby be given away rather than having face certain death.

In Solomon's wisdom and understanding of jealousy, he discerned that the true mother would never harm her own child. However, a jealous person would do anything to take away what another person has, even if it adds nothing to what she has!

Jealousy is partial insanity. It's just as crazy as wanting half a baby so the other person won't have more. What another person has or doesn't have makes no difference to what we have or lack. Yet people will spend an enormous amount of time and energy focused on other people's possessions - even as it has no effect on their own.

In Proverbs, King Solomon wrote "envy rots the bones" (14:30b). The Jewish sages teach that a jealous person will not only decompose naturally after death, but also unnaturally - his bones will rot as well. What kind of punishment is this and how is it connected to the trait of jealousy?

The Hebrew word for bones is etzem. However, the word also means "essence." This is because more than any other part of the human body, a person's bones symbolize who they are and what they are made up of. When a person is jealous of another, in reality, they are denying who they are. It's like wanting another person's prescription eyeglasses even though they are totally inappropriate for you. Being jealous of what someone else has is denying who you really are and what you specifically need. Jealousy decomposes a person's essence and individuality. It is harmful and self-defeating; it makes no logical sense.

Thankfully, the antidote for this self-destructive behavior is to embrace our identity and recognize that everything in our lives is perfectly arranged for us. When we accept that truth, we won't want what belongs to anyone else. So as we start off each day, let us repeat these words to ourselves until they are felt deep in our bones: "God has given me exactly what I need for my life today and I am so very grateful."

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President


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