You know, I’m writing this knowing that most people aren’t really interested in reading about – or working on – their bad middot.
I know that.
It’s hard work, it’s yucky, we’d all much prefer to think that Moshiach hasn’t shown up because of everyone else’s personality disorders and dysfunctional behavior.
I know that.
And yet, masochist that I appear to be, I’m going to keep writing about this stuff for at least a little while, because at some point, maybe we’ll all have an epiphany, and realise that the work we have to do down here is really just on improving ourselves, instead of trying to point fingers at everyone else.
So in this post, I wanted to come back to the infographic showing how Rebbe Nachman describes the genesis of some of our main bad middot (which I spiffied up a little, after some helpful comments from reader Rachel) – and take a closer look at how the bad midda of jealousy can lead to a lot of people’s anger issues.
Strange to say, while jealousy is all-pervasive in our society today, most people – until fairly recently, including myself – have no idea just how much it’s playing into their anger issues. If you’d have asked me 10 years ago whether I had a jealousy problem, I would probably have shrugged, and told you ‘no more than anyone else’.
Sure, I occasionally had pangs of envy about other people’s bigger houses…or better jobs…or bigger families…or better hair – but jealous, moi?! Really, not.
Or so I thought.
Then I started going to Uman, and to the Baal Shem Tov, and it was actually in Medzibozh the second time I ever went to the Ukraine that I had one of the most disturbing dreams of my life: I was with a good friend of mine in the dream, and I was hating her guts and wishing awful things of her, because she was well and truly beating me in the ‘perfect life’ stakes.
In the dream, she had tons of super-successful gorgeous children…and they were all coming to visit her in her swanky office because she also had a great job…and she had a basketball court in her office for her kids to come and shoot some hoops at….and she lived in an amazing house that was spotlessly clean right opposite from her work….
And and and – I woke up from that dream literally gagging on all the terrible, jealous feelings that had just risen to the surface, and that’s when God really showed me, “Uhuh, honey, you really do have a jealousy problem.”
Since then, I’ve had ample time, and ample opportunity to really get to grips with it, and mostly, I’m doing much better than I used to be. The pangs of jealousy come less often, and last less long, Baruch Hashem! And a big part of that improvement is due to trying to count more of my blessings, and to stop taking things for granted.
Still, until I put together that diagram, I hadn’t realized how jealousy is one of the main motivators for anger, but over the last few days I’ve been pondering that, and it makes perfect sense.
For example, for as long as I was secretly jealous of the people who hadn’t left their comfort zone, and status, and easy-money jobs to make aliya, I was SO self-righteously angry about the people who hadn’t (yet…) moved to Israel. It was all dressed up in holy clothes, natch, but underneath all the rants about the people who weren’t moving to Israel, there lurked that green-eyed monster, jealousy.
What, they can stay put in their careers, and their social group and the comfort zone and still be considered good Jews?! That just didn’t seem fair… it didn’t seem right…
This attitude only finally vanished when I went back to the UK 2 years ago, and realized once and for all what a huge present God gave me and my family when He let me move to Israel. I came back to Israel completely and utterly UN-jealous about all the people who still live in London, poor them.
But for as long as I secretly wanted what they had, and what I resented having to give up myself – man, I was so angry at them!
And I think this same dynamic is playing out all over the place.
When stay-at-home mums start ranting about working mums, or vice-versa, it seems to me that on some deep, subconscious level, the person is really just jealous of what the other mum is doing.
Otherwise, why do they care so much? Why so angry? Why so disapproving? Why so upset?
And the same is true for so many of the subjects that are being dressed up in self-righteous clothing. You sir, you're ranting about people going to see movies because really, you're jealous, and you wish you could do it too, without feeling guilty.
And you ma'am, you're ranting about people spending Pesach in a fancy hotel because secretly, that's really what you'd like to do....
Otherwise, all the anger and harsh judgement calls and OTT name-calling and villification just wouldn't be in the picture.
Again, to recap: Anger doesn’t just appear out of nowhere. It’s caused by a couple main bad middot. One of those bad middot is JEALOUSY, what we’re discussing today, but anger can also be caused by FALSEHOOD and, indirectly, by FEAR (which in turn is caused by ARROGANCE, FLATTERY and WORRY).
Any way you slice it, angry, disapproving people have a bunch of bad middot they need to work on, and Rabbenu has helpfully set out where that work should really begin.
Again, I really get that no-one really wants to read this stuff.
It’s so much easier just to pretend we’re all perfect, and everything that’s going wrong in the world, and in our families, and with our relationships, is just Donald Trump’s fault.
But what can I do? I really want geula, I really want Moshiach, and the only way we’re going to get that any time soon, without the whole world disappearing into some fiery vent in the earth’s crust, is by working on our bad middot.
We all have them, you know. I'm not the only person in the world with a huge jealousy-leading-to-self-righteous-anger problem.
But sometimes, I get the feeling I'm the only one who's willing to admit it.
NOTICE: The blog is only restarting at this address temporarily.
I will be migrating this blog over to a new site at: rivkalevy.com