Monday, April 15, 2024 -
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Jealousy

The lady says, “Cut!” Cut the child in two. 
 It screams from within the famous story exemplifying King Solomon’s wisdom, which is read this week as the haftarah of the weekly Torah portion, Miketz.

Two women dwell in the same house. Each gives birth. The first lady lies on her son, presumably by accident, and he dies. She switches the corpse for the other lady’s living son. The real mother sees the corpse and knows it is not the baby she gave birth to, and she wants her child back.

They come before King Solomon, who famously decides the matter, saying, “Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to to the other.” The mother of the living son begs the king not to cut, but to give the baby to its kidnapper. She cannot bear to see her son die, even if it means she will not have him. But the other lady says, “Cut!”

King Solomon famously awards the living son to the actual mother. “Give her the living newborn, and do not put it to death: She is his mother.”

The Book of Kings concludes the narrative: “All Israel heard the judgment that the king rendered and they felt awe for the king, for they saw the wisdom of G-d was within him, to do justice.”

Let us try to extract another message that lies somewhat hidden in this tale, a message about jealousy.

Jealousy is to want what is someone else’s. I want someone else’s wealth, or home, or reputation, or mate, or health. The very word “jealous” conveys this. We say, “I am jealous of . . . ”

My point here is not to dwell on the perils of jealousy. Besides, as Rabbi Yissachar Frand points out, it is entirely unrealistic, for if one really did come into possession of something that rightly belongs to someone else, one would get the whole package. The object one is jealous of looms pure and pristine, but it actually comes with a lot of baggage. Every good thing attaches to it a slew of conditions. And those conditions, says Rabbi Frand, would make someone else miserable. One is able to see only the desired item, not its context. One sees the beauty of the other man’s wife, but not the character traits that are suitable to her husband but would ruin anyone else who had to live with them. No, one does not see that. Jealousy blinds.
But it is not this that I want to dwell on. I want to focus on a lesser known, more hidden jealousy. What was it that so deeply troubled the lady whose child had died that she cried out, “Cut!” It obviously wasn’t a desire for a living child. It wasn’t a desire for something good. It was the desire that someone else not possess something good.

This jealousy says, not what I want to have, but what I want someone else not to have. I am not consumed with desire for something specific; I am consumed with the desire that someone else never possess it. I am so consumed that there is no end to how destructive I will be to stop someone else from possessing it.

“Cut!” Violence, malevolence, you name it; I will go to any length if someone else will benefit. I must stop this! I have no peace otherwise.

Rabbi Berel Wein relates an incident in which a man with a huge house bought the empty lot next to him. He didn’t need it. He built nothing on it. He realized no income from it; he didn’t sell it or rent it. So why did he buy it? Because he knew that his neighbor, who had never harmed him, wanted it, and he couldn’t stand to see his neighbor benefit.

That’s jealousy.

That’s what drove the poor woman whose son had died. She couldn’t bear to see her housemate gain.

“Cut!”

If I were actually to realize my jealousy for something and acquire the other person’s wealth, home, reputation or mate, their sharp edges would damage me. Realistically speaking, however, jealousy is rarely realized. I can look at the other person’s palatial home all I want, I won’t get it. True, if am the jealous type, I will constantly be unhappy. Mostly, however, I think people learn that the pains of jealousy are pointless, and grow out of them. However, if am consumed with blocking someone else’s desire, then, if my jealousy is not to get something for myself but to prevent someone else from getting what he wants, that type of jealousy usually does not dissipate.

When I stop my neighbor from acquiring the lot next to my house, that empty lot stands as a constant reminder. It always validates my animus because it is always there.

The lady said, “Cut!” But the people were in awe of the king. It wasn’t only justice that King Solomon wrought. It wasn’t only this that awed the people. It was a lesson in jealousy. Don’t begrudge the other person. The primary loser will be you.

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