Korach (Numbers 16-18)
Despite our immense sophistication, technology and so-called brain power, most people never achieve what field mice enjoy nearly all the time – a sense that they are right with the world – at least not for any sustained period of time.
If I were writing this 100 years ago we would no doubt have assumed that most people are not satisfied because they don’t have enough things, or their life span is too short, or the threat of war is too imminent.
But today, we can compare most people’s lives in the Western world to trying to balance a piano on the end of a short stick. If we ever get a true moment of equilibrium, it’s only that, a moment, and then inevitably it will fall to one side or the other.
As soon as you achieve a sense of balance and tranquility, boom. It happens. We even have expressions and sayings describing the feeling as waiting for the other shoe to fall, as though it’s unavoidable.
And it is.
Let me try and explain. There was a popular documentary about a person who tried to live eating only fast food. The results were not pretty. Similar to the body, the soul needs fulfillment too. And similar to the body, when we try to feed the soul unhealthy “snacks,” the results are not how they appear on the packaging. Instead of finding peace, love and happiness, we end up with anger, depression and jealousy.
The following story appears in the classic 16th century book of Jewish ethics, “The Ways of the Righteous”:
A lustful man and a jealous man met a king. The king said to them, “One of you may make a request which I will fulfill, provided that I give twice as much of the same to your companion.”
The jealous man did not want to ask first, because he didn’t want his companion to receive twice as much. The lustful man did not want to ask first, because he wanted what belonged to both of them.
The lustful man finally pressed the jealous man to ask. The jealous man asked the king to pluck out one of his eyes, because then his companion would have both eyes plucked out.
As absurd as that story is, the effects of jealousy are not. Wanting things that others have is not only inane, because invariably you won’t get them, but even if you do, you are less than likely to find any form of balance or tranquility.
This week’s parsha tells the story of a rebellion led by a man named Korach. The Sages say he was jealous over the fact that a family relative (whom Korach deemed lower than himself) was appointed to a higher leadership position.
“Jealousy, desire and pride take a man out of the world.” (Talmud, Ethics of the Fathers 4:21)
This kind of jealousy does not leave room in your heart to want anything healthy. Being unsatisfied that others have more money than you is very injurious. And similar to eating junk food, no amount of healthy food on top will counter the damage of this type of thinking.
Desiring a bigger house or faster car than your friend’s does not leave any motivation to improve your marriage. People are only satisfied to say, “I’ve gained enough wisdom,” or “I’ve given enough to charity,” when they are much more consumed with having a big enough flat screen TV relative to their neighbor, or the right shape swimming pool.
However, it’s not that you should not be jealous. Rather jealousy is a powerful ally if it’s for the right things. Our Sages explain that jealousy is a motivator, for bad and good! Believe it or not, rather than try and eliminate it, we can use jealousy for things that really bring us satisfaction in life.
Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (Ramchal) explains the positive side of jealousy. This is when a person takes note of his neighbor’s achievements and appreciates that he too can achieve similar heights. This is not a negative jealousy, because it is not based on a desire to deprive one’s neighbor. Rather, he learns from those around him what is possible for him to achieve – and is motivated to elevate himself.
This is not looking at people as wiser than yourself, or people who achieved a loving family life, and wishing they too had such a life but resigning themselves to their own tale of doom and gloom. No, this is seeing your friends’ achievements and realizing, “If they can do it, I can do it too.”
I think it’s true to say that we all are keeping score with our achievements and accomplishments in life. The key here is not to burn the score card, but to change the type of card you are using to measure a different kind of life achievement.
You have no idea what a transformation you will have in your life when you keep track of all the goodness, kindness and wisdom you have shown and achieved, as opposed to looking merely at the amount of dollars, designer clothing labels and sports cars in the driveway.
Imagine for a moment a world where the most loving and wise people were sought after more than the people making movies and winning at sports… If you can imagine such a world, you can live in such a world. You would be surprised, there are a few already here and it’s quite satisfying.
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BRAINSTORMING QUESTIONS TO PONDER
Question 1: Which is worse, to never feel you have enough to be satisfied with, or to never lack anything?
Question 2: Of all the things you acquired over the years, which ones were really worth it?
Question 3: What do you regret not having done five years ago?
Question 4: Five years from now, what will you regret not having started now?
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