When Jealousy is in the Driver’s Seat
by Braha Bender
Two men were walking along a river when a king drove up in an elaborate golden carriage. Leaping from the open carriage door, the king flourished a bulging purse before the two men and declared, “Whosoever requests a gift, it shall be given to him, and to his friend shall be given double! Any gift at all!”
What a conundrum! Of the two men walking along the river, one was a man crippled by lust, and the other debilitated by jealousy. Neither could comfortably take the king’s generous offer.
The lustful man thought to himself, “All those kingly riches look wonderful, but I must keep silent! If only I can hold my tongue, surely my companion will speak first. Then I will receive double of whatever he requests!”
The lustful man stood fidgeting like a two-year-old but managed to keep quiet.
Meanwhile, the jealous man was thinking, “Oh, I can see it now. Whatever I ask, he will receive double. Double! It just isn’t fair!” His jealousy had pierced him to the heart before anything had even been given.
The two stood in silence as the king watched dolefully. Eventually, the king broke the silence. “Well, if you both have chosen to request nothing, I suppose I shall carry on…”
Climbing back into his carriage, the royal party prepared to continue on their way when the jealous man suddenly yelled, “Stop!”
The king immediately jumped back out the carriage door. “So have you changed your mind?,” he asked the jealous man.
“Yes! Yes I have,” the jealous man replied. “Please, your highness! My request is that you gouge out one of my eyes!”
So far had jealousy driven him that the man would even sacrifice one eye, just as long as he ended up with more than the other man…
Crazy Can Start Small
Real jealousy does not just mean wanting what other people have. It means wanting what other people have to their detriment. Parashas Korach presents a narrative driven by such jealousy.
Chazal ask, “Korach was a clever man. What did he see in such absurd behavior?” Everyone knew that Moshe (Moses) and Aharon (Aaron) were the messengers appointed by the Almighty to lead the Jewish People. They had seen Moshe initiate God’s miracles on dozens of occasions.
Not only that, but all three million people had heard the Almighty call Moshe up to receive the Torah on Mount Sinai. The leadership would never be transferred to Korach, especially not as some sort of twisted reward for his quasi-political hissy fit. This was God they were dealing with. It wasn’t like Korach was going to be able to manipulate Him. So what on earth was Korach thinking?
The answer, of course, is that he was not thinking. Jealousy is not rational. There was no justification to what Korach did. Would any sane person voluntarily ask to have an eye gouged out? Likewise, would any sane person contest the leadership of Moshe and Aharon? Nobody loved the Jewish People like they did. Nobody had sacrificed and labored and dedicated themselves to the Jewish People as Moshe and Aharon had. Demanding an end to their leadership was akin to demanding that the Jewish People collectively gouge out an eye.
Yet this was what Korach did. Why? Because jealousy, an irrational drive, was driving him. Korach had chosen jealousy over sanity, just like the jealous man in the story by the river.
Korach did not start off a lunatic. Neither do we. Yet there are irrational drives aplenty that would love nothing more than to take the reins and ruin our lives. It’s so easy to act like Korach and just follow your heart. What makes Korach’s story a cautionary tale is that sanity exists on a continuum. Crazy can start small, but one thing leads to another.
Korach turned off his mind and was buried alive. Let’s choose to think first and act intelligently…whether we feel like it or not.