We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chusim for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.
Last week’s stretch of the week was: Find the good in one difficult thing in your life and keep it in your mind as you deal with that challenge.
Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.
Taking A Deeper Look - Lesson #15
לא תחמד LO SACHMOD Don’t Covet
PART 3 – The negative effects of envy
We are required to train our children in the mitzvos of lo sachmod and lo sis’a’veh from their youth. It is not sufficient to tell them, “Keep your eyes out of your sister’s plate” or “You don’t have to get a prize because your brother did.” Rather, a parent should give his child the tools to overcome the tendency to desire, such as by repeating often, “In our home, everyone gets just what he or she needs,” or, “HaShem knows what is best for each one of us. If someone else has it, it wasn’t meant for me.”
The underlying flaw that leads a person to desire something that belongs to another and to take measures to acquire it is kin’a, envy. The midda of envy is considered very crass and should be assiduously avoided.
Chazal tell us how destructive envy can be: “When a person has his eye on what is not his, then even what is his will be taken away from him.” The Torah offers many examples of people who experience this principle: Kayin, Korach, Bil’am, Haman and others.
The envious person is truly unfortunate: “His entire life is pain, and he will never be happy” (Sotah 9). One extreme illustration is the classic parable of a royal minister who was extremely envious of his fellow minister. One day, the king generously offered to give him anything he asked for--but the king would give his companion twice as much. After much thought, the minister finally asked that the king gouge out one of his eyes.
People in our generation have become rather obsessed with “keeping up with the Joneses”--exerting themselves physically and emotionally to gain a lifestyle based on society’s superficial and extravagant standards. Eliminating this non-constructive trait would greatly enhance the true quality of our lives.
Therefore, even if envy is not an actual violation of either of these mitzvos, middas chassidus would demand that we work on ourselves to avoid even wanting someone else’s possessions, even if that desire is not accompanied by any thought or action to acquire it.
Story: (based on a true story)
The disastrous split in my seventh grade class began with a pair of boots. They were dark brown with a row of gold studs, and dark brown tassels in the back gave them a semi-western look. Dassi wore them to school on the first cold day of winter, and received compliments all day. On anyone else the boots might have looked odd with the navy blue pleated uniform skirt but she made it work, with style, as she always did. With her chin just slightly in the air, she wafted down the halls with the other five members of her group alongside her.
Most of us were never going to own a pair of boots like that. Sure, they kept you warm, but they were too pretty to be remotely useful in the snow. We all had plain, puffy shoe-boots from Sears or Payless. We admired her acquisition, reminded ourselves that there was just no way, and moved on.
Except for Chava. Three days later, on a Monday morning, she showed up at school wearing the same boots. Not the same style in black, or a plainer pair in the same brown; not another set of boots from the same line, but the same exact boots. Dassi was absent that day, but she was kept informed. She returned to school on Tuesday, and after davening she went straight over to her group of girls and singled out the one she needed.
I don’t know exactly what was said, but I do know that by the end of the day, the stupendous group of six became two angry groups of three. “How dare she get the same boots?!” battled out “It’s just boots,” or the more conciliatory “Maybe she bought them before she even saw Dassi’s.” There was talk of making Chava ask her mother to return them, and Chava bore the nickname, “Boots” for months.
Within a week, the entire class had settled on one side of the line or the other, and the school’s administration was concerned. They called us all in for an assembly and spoke of achdus. It did nothing. Every girl was either one of the popular clique, and therefore too angry to feel sisterhood, or a regular person who chose a side just so she could be somewhere.
As a wallflower, I understood what Chava had done all too well. The year before, I’d become largely friendless after transferring to a new school. I scrounged around for a chevra, and hooked onto other aimless girls. But I wanted more, and I found out by accident one day that by offering to lend out objects I had-music tapes, videos, books-I could connect to others, just for a little while. I began to do this whenever I could, even if the friendliness only lasted for a day or two. Apparently, objects could connect people. And, I began asking my mom to buy me the clothes that the “in” group had, so I could be more like them, even if it wasn’t a style I liked. Soon enough, anything “they” had, I wanted. Being me hadn’t gotten me what I felt I needed, so I tried to be like somebody else.
Apparently popular girls could get jealous too. Maybe Chava envied Dassi’s position. Maybe she felt there was a standard she had to live up to in order to keep being liked. Maybe she saw that getting something unique got you extra attention. For whatever reason, she felt that getting those same boots would get her something she didn’t have. There was no way she just got them because she liked them. The timing was too perfect, they didn’t even look good on her, and she didn’t wear them with Dassi’s flair. The whole thing reeked of desperation.
Chava was focused on an object and felt that if she had it, she’d get where she wanted to go. But it didn’t help. Many thought less of her, especially Dassi. She lost at least one close friendship permanently, and, the combination of her act and Dassi’s inability to tolerate someone else sharing her turf, caused anger and loshon hara among twenty-four girls.
The class fight lasted for weeks. I wish I could say I learned to stop being jealous of the popular kids and to stop relying on objects to boost myself up, but low self-esteem is a powerful thing. I had to learn to feel better about myself before I could be happy with the package HaShem had given me.
Discussion Question Options:
How does self-esteem relate to envy?
Where does emuna fit in to the envy/self-esteem picture?
How can we help our children, and ourselves, to withstand the need to be like others?
Stretch of the Week:
Find an opportunity to remind your children and/or yourself that “Ayzehu ashir, hasamayach b’chelko--Who is rich? He who is happy with what he has.