Dr Judith Guedalia

Jealousy, Cupidity/Desire And Honor/Dignity Put A Man Out Of The World (Pirkei Avot/Sayings Of The Fathers': 4:21)

By Dr. Judith Guedalia and Chaim K. © 2007

        "Last night I went to a good friend's wedding, yet again; my friends seem to be dropping-out of bachelorhood like flies," smiles Chaim K. aged 20, through moist eyes. "I thought about the scene of our last dance together. We were in the center of the circle, music blaring and our eyes locked. Menachem (not his real name) was holding onto my hand and spinning my wheelchair around with him. We both knew that I was happy and envious at the same time. I knew too, that he was happy that I was alive, and sad that I was locked in this chair with my respirator.


         "I guess you could call this positive envy." Chaim K. has developed many theories on human behavior in the last six years since his accident. The car that hit him and left him with a severe spinal cord injury is a major factor for having time to think about how people behave. He sits in his wheelchair actively observing the world as it continues to revolve, without him, as it were.

         His world today includes his warm family and "visitors" - some friends and the many more "professional" visitors: physical therapists, doctors, nursing aides, rabbanim from the yeshiva he attends etc. So when we sit together and Chaim talks about interpersonal relationships and human behavior, I feel that I am talking to a very educated layperson.

         He continues: "There is destructive envy or jealousy. For example there is the type of guy who sees his neighbor buy a new car, say a Porsche, when he is driving a Honda. So a person that has positive envy might say: "Oh I wish I'd also have such a nice car," but the man who has destructive jealousy would be saying to himself: "I wish he'd crash his car into a tree and the car would be totaled."

         Chaim K. has a point; there is a difference between envy and jealousy. Webster's dictionary defines envy as a painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another, joined with a desire to possess the same advantage. Jealousy is defined as: a disposition, attitude, or feeling, and is related to "zealous vigilance."

          Jealousy typically refers to the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that occur when a person believes that a rival is threatening a valued relationship. "I am not jealous or want the exclusivity of others' material possessions. But for the past six years I have had to try very hard not to be envious of people who walk, breathe, and move on their own.

       I hope I have succeeded. I am happy for them and don't wish them ill. However, I would not be completely honest if I didn't say that seeing their freedom of movement squeezes and pulls on my heart, but I seriously don't wish them any harm."

         As a psychologist, I can't refrain from noting to myself that the Pirkei Avot, The Sayings of the Fathers, goes on to mention cupidity/desire and honor/dignity in the sentence also. A Rogerian psychologist might just say: "Umm," meaningfully. As I relate more with the Cognitive Behavioral School, I ask Chaim if he can tell me about the rest of the sentence.

         He smiles knowingly, and goes on: "Without ta'avah, 'cupidity,' mankind could not go forward. Without our hunger/desire for food, we would starve to death. Without our emotional and physical desires there would be no future generation.

         "One of the 'positive' injunctions of The Ten Commandments requires us to honor our parents so that we may merit a long life. Five other Commandments, I guess the more 'negative' ones, tell us what not to do; among them is not to be envious of your neighbor's 'possessions.'"

         Here, Chaim winks at me, as if to say: Yeah, yeah, yeah; women are possessions, so much for any of your "Women's' Lib" ideas.

         He continues: "So how can honor be among the three factors that pave a man's path to death?

         "The Mishnah must be referring to honor gone bad. Not respect of others, but rather, Ga'avah, Hubris, only requiring respect for oneself. This egocentric use of a 'Commandment' is punishable by death.

         "While we see that cupidity and desire are necessary for existence, negative lust and desire are destructive to the very fabric of our society, breaking the bonds between husband and wife and the whole community makeup."

         Here, I add that the Mishnah in Sotah begins with "When a man is jealous of his wife." The story of the Sotah, the "suspected" wife, and her subsequent drinking of the "bitter waters," is indeed the basis of Shalom Bayit and demonstrates the importance Hashem places on honor and trust versus the "poison," jealousy can imbue in a marriage. He permits His Holy Name to be destroyed in the search for truth and Shalom Bayit.

         "Not bad," smiles Chaim, "for a woman," referring to my Mishnaic reference. "So here is positive envy, positive lust and positive honor."

         "Chaim," I ask, "how do you manage to be so Mefargain?" - A Hebraized Yiddish word, which defies complete translation but means unselfish understanding of and benevolence towards others.

         "It's not easy at all, I have difficult days and nights, but I realize that jealousy of others will not bring me what they have, it will only poison my soul and the possibility of having relationships with those I care for.

         "I'll give you an example. Recently on a Shabbat when my married sister and brother were visiting, my brother-in-law picked up my brother's daughter. This may sound complicated, but he isn't a blood relation, he's my sister's husband and the baby was my brother's child. Anyway, his own son became very jealous. He wanted his father's love, exclusively. He was crying 'Abba pick me up.'

         "One of the other guests quoted this very sentence in Pirkei Avot and explained it wisely: 'When we are babies we are jealous, when we are adolescents we have ta'avah/desire, when we get old we want honor and in the end we are 'removed' from the world.'"

         As you can see, though Chaim K. may not get around freely and seems "stuck" in many ways, his mind knows no boundaries, his views of life are kinder and more "Mefargain" than most. He is always processing information and has insights into life from which we can all learn.

         As we end our session, Chaim says: "Honor and dignity, I lost them the moment the car hit me and left me paralyzed totally, a quadriplegic; 'cupidity and desire,' I haven't ruled them out yet." Winking at me he ends with: "Before I 'leave' [sic this world], I still hope to achieve those goals."


Originally published in the Jewish Press on August 15, 2007.

Tags: Chaim K. | Jealousy | Jewish Press | Positive Envy