Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Similiar and the Different

Since I moved to Eretz Yisrael I have been mostly davening in a nusach sefarad siddur. Its not a matter of intentionally changing my personal nusach ha'tefila but rather the reality of davening morning and evening in a beit knesset that davens nusach sefarad in my neighborhood. The gift of the siddur I daven in is that it has a beautiful little prayer addendum to the ending portion of the shmoneh esrai, an addendum I decided to add to my silent prayer.

The prayer begins asking Hashem that I not have jealous feelings towards any person and that no person be jealous of me...I found it fascinating that protection from feelings of jealousy should be so important as to warrant a special addition to our prayers. And if I need Divine help to be safeguarded from the feeling what does it say about how prevalent the feeling is in both me and in others.

As I thought about jealousy I thought about the stories of sibling rivalries we have been encountering all through Breishit. From the earliest stories of Cain and Hevel to the stories of Joseph and his brothers a recurring theme has been brother (or sister) engaged in some form of conflict. I then wondered how is it that Yaakov and Esav seem to reconcile, as we read this week, while Joseph and his brothers, of which we read about next week, engage in a struggle that, one could argue, never gets fully resolved. After all Judah and Ephraim ( decendent of Joseph)
become adversaries in the form of a divided people and a split kingdom. And even if you don't want to take the struggle that far down the road of our history, it is certainly clear that the reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers takes quite a bit more work than the reconciliation of Yaakov and Esav. Why?

I think the answer may be that there was one ingredient true in the story of Joseph and his brothers that we do not find in the story of Yaakov and Esav, or for that matter in any other rivalry save one (and interestingly that one is in the rivalry of the mothers of Joseph and his brothers). The ingredient is jealousy. Esav hated Yaakov. He hated him with an enmity so strong it moved him to want to commit fratricide. But nowhere does it say Esav was jealous of Yaakov. And a rivalry, no matter how bitter, not rooted in jealousy can be reconciled relatively easily and with no enduring consequences. However if jealousy is at the core of the conflict, no matter how good the people are in themselves, the conflict will be difficult to resolve and the consequences may endure.

It is no accident that we find jealousy being an operative dynamic with Joseph and his brothers and not with Yaakov and Esav. Jealousy more likely occurs when people are more similar to each other and where they have more in common. When people see themselves as different from each other, they may experience fear and hatred, they may resent and loathe, but they will not likely feel jealousy. Jealousy breeds where people actually have much in common and a potential affinity. It grows where people may experience feelings of love and closeness in concert with the feelings of jealousy. It is a feeling one typically experiences with those nearest and dearest, husbands and wives, parents and children ( I know the Gemara says a parent does not feel jealous of his/her child, and yet reality demands we not take that talmudic teaching literally). Not surprisingly it is a feeling we need pray to Hashem to protect us from because it's a feeling so painful for us to confront in ourselves and one so difficult to weed out.

Jealousy is the most pernicious of feelings between people and potentially the most destructive.
Yet it is a feeling that inheres in some forms even amongst the greatest of us and in relations to the ones we most love. How wise that little prayer I now say three times daily asking Hashem's protection from jealousy. How wise I would be if I have the courage to face the feeling where it exists in me and if I cannot dissolve the feeling, at least do all that I can to insure that the feeling not undermine the relationships I have with the ones I love....

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