I recently met a man of ninetyfive who looked much younger than his age. I was so impressed by his physical and emotional energy that I could not resist asking him to reveal the secret of his longevity. Happy to oblige, the vigorous nonagenarian jumped out of his chair and excitedly started telling me his life principles. One of them had to do with jealousy and envy – highly appropriate for the story of Korah in this week's parashah. The man declared that he would never look enviously at those who had more than him, but kept focused on those who had less. He explained that this kept him in good shape.
It turns out that the old man's approach is hardly new. King Solomon wrote Envy causes rotting of the bones (Mishlei 14:30). The Talmud explains: If one has jealousy or competitiveness in his heart, his bones will "disintegrate"; that is, he will die before his time. This does not refer only to physical death but to nervous breakdowns and heart conditions as well.
There is another way of looking at the term עצמות or bones which can offer us additional help in dealing with jealousy. עצמות also hints at עצמיות – independent and original character. When we are jealous, we are investing our emotional and intellectual energy in thoughts of what the other person has that we are lacking. By doing so, however, we lose out on improving our own original and independent character. As long as we are busy trying to write our own unique life story of success, thoughts of jealousy will not have room in our brain. But if we see ourselves as merely part of a group, without a unique identity, we will start measuring our success against that of others. Indeed, the Mishnah in Abot (4:21) says: הקנאה התאווה והכבוד מוציאין את האדם מן העולם – jealousy, materialistic desires, and the pursuit of honor all take a person out of the world. A common understanding of this Mishnah is that these negative traits can cause one to lose one's footing in the “social world” that he is in. Our Rabbis explain that this mishna is referring to a person’s own unique world and identity. By being busy with what others have or by constantly pursuing honor and pleasure, a person loses out on his own successes and ignores the goals and ambitions that are important to him.
A method for defusing jealousy is to understand the special way in which the Torah prohibits it in the Ten Commandments (Shemot 20:14) "You shall not covet your friend's house, wife, servant, maidservant, ox, donkey and all that your friend has." If the Torah already spelled out a whole list of things belonging to others that we are not to covet, why then does it need to add a seemingly unnecessary repetition: all that your friend has?
The all includes their hardships and problems as well. If everyone were to put their lot in one corner of the room, including all the good things they have in life as well as all their hardships and problems – everyone would pick their own package (lot). No-one has it all good. If you are jealous of the good things someone else has in life, keep in mind that you are overlooking the difficulties that go along with them. Indeed, we are sometimes jealous of the other person's spiritual or monetary wealth, and ask ourselves why we do not also have their success. But we fail to take into account all the hours of work ,tension, risks, sacrifices etc. that the one jealous of went through.
As the jocular saying goes: that we are Jealousy is all the fun you think the other guy is having. In fact, a happy and jealousy-free life is up to each and every one of us. It does not have to do with how much we have or don’t have, but rather how appreciative we really are for what we do have.