Of all the complex emotions we can attribute to biblical characters, envy emerges as a primary common thread throughout many of the early narratives, motivating reprehensible behavior including theft, manipulation, deception, and even fratricide (humanity’s very first murder). This week we read about Joseph who, after receiving a gift from his father, proceeds to highlight his favored status by sharing prophetic dreams which feature him ruling the rest of his family. It is not shocking that jealousy is ignited, and motivates some morally suspect decisions from the rest of Jacob’s sons.
I have always been fascinated by jealousy, because it is the 10th commandment, and the only one that attempts to legislate emotion, as opposed to action or belief. It is practically impossible to follow that commandment, by the way. The Hebrew root H.M.D -ח.מ.ד, usually translated as covet, is also found in Hebrew words meaning lovely, cute, likable, and sweet. Somehow we are being commanded to transcend our natural reaction to be attracted to or to desire something that is inherently desirable, simply because it belongs to someone else. How do we do that? Why is it so important?
The wisdom here is that of course it is human nature to experience the emotion of desire. Desire isn’t wrong. Desiring something that doesn’t belong to you is what is proscribed. Unfortunately, it is actually much easier to desire things we don’t have, since we necessarily know less about them. It is not uncommon for someone to covet something they see from afar, only to find out that the object of their desire looks very different from up close. Given this understanding of the “grass is always greener” aspect of human nature, the Torah acknowledges the tendency, but gives example after example of the havoc that is wreaked when we allow this emotion to guide our actions.
Social media heightens this tendency – it makes it seem as if everyone we know is living fantastically glamorous and adorable lives. Very few people post about anything real, or challenging in their lives.
From a teaching and parenting perspective, how should we take this knowledge and put it into action in classrooms and homes? What practices could we put in place to help us appreciate what we have, so that we feel less jealous of what others possess?