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Parashat Vayeshev: From Envy to Enlightenment

There is no doubt that envy is a feeling that generates discomfort, both in the one who feels it and in the one who receives it. It complicates relationships and blinds people's minds, allowing selfish and petty thoughts to surface.

The entire parasha is marked by this feeling, which sometimes even mediates long-standing romantic relationships or friendships. In the case of the biblical narrative, it intertwines in family ties, provoked by Jacob's favoritism towards his beloved son Joseph. It causes reactions as extreme as wanting to cause the death of a brother.

The story becomes somewhat more compassionate, and Reuben, the eldest brother, is the one who stops that death, to exchange it for an "exemplary punishment for the envied brother," such as being thrown into a pit and left abandoned. Rashi partially defends Jacob's firstborn, saying that it was indeed his intention to free him at night and let him go. Only when he returned to look for him, he found that the well where he had left him was empty, and his brothers Simeon and Levi had sold him as a slave to a caravan passing by on their way to Egypt.

So the story continues, and we can see more feelings guided by envy.

However, it's interesting how our sages of the Talmud defined, in almost opposing ways, such a questioned feeling:

In the Baba Batra Treatise, we are taught:

Kinat sofrim tarbeh chachma

The envy among the sages will increase wisdom

It would be something like envy generating a kind of competition in which "the sage" is challenged and encouraged to be even wiser so as not to be surpassed by their counterpart. The motivation would be envy of the other's knowledge.

If we read in chapter four of Pirkei Avot, it is said:

Hakina ve'hataavah ve'hakavod motzi'im et ha'adam min ha'olam

Envy, greed, and ambition compromise the existence of man

This portrays envy as a feeling that has nothing positive about it, neither in its consequence nor in its origin.

In the same compilation, the Talmud, we have an interpretation that wants to highlight the positive that it could have, while another denigrates it as something that cannot be given any positive value. Perhaps the keyword is "sofrim," the sages, in the first of the two Talmudic texts.

While it is inevitable to manage feelings and difficult to do without a reaction to our surroundings, what we must do is act with intelligence, wisely. See the other person with the eyes of someone who can assess the situation, without the naked influence of the heart, by trying to learn from the other, learn from the situation at hand, and choosing the best path to build and not destroy.

The first path leads us to improvement, the other, as Pirkei Avot literally says, takes us out of the world. It separates us from our own and isolates us.

May we have the wisdom to make good choices and carry them out in the best way. May we control our impulses that we will inevitably have, to translate our actions into lovingly giving what is needed to make us better people, in a better world.

May these days of Chanukah illuminate the world and each of the peoples with a little more coherence and humanity. May the light of the candles provide the necessary warmth for baseless and gratuitous hatred to finally leave the souls of those who only seek to destroy. May the Kadosh Baruch Hu grant us lasting peace in which we can coexist in our land without envy, without resentment, and with the vision of a beneficial future for each and every inhabitant of this world.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Urim Sameach!

Happy Chanukah!

Rabbi Gustavo Geier


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