If there is one emotion that has received a bad rap, then without doubt its jealousy. Even those who are unable to distinguish between jealousy and envy, implicitly understand that envy is “kosher,” while jealousy is “treif.” Our culture is quick to point out that jealousy is the product of insecurity or lack of self-esteem or that it is the by-product of a controlling individual.
Brace yourselves. Contrary to most psychologists, jealousy can be a most healthy emotion. For the most part, there has been failure to recognize that just as there is “bad” jealousy, so too is there “good” jealousy.
Would any true believer in HaShem concur that HaShem lacks self-esteem? Would any true believer in HaShem agree that HaShem is insecure? Yet, in introducing Himself to our ancestors at Mount Sinai, a mere seven weeks after extricating them from Egypt, along with the enslavement that was part and parcel of Egyptian society, HaShem was quick to point out “I am a jealous G-d.” Is this the way to begin what HaShem hoped to be a beautiful relationship? Surely those of us who are familiar with the Ten Commandments are missing something when we read that HaShem is a jealous G-d!
Jealousy, “good jealousy” is a product of dashed expectations. Jealousy, “good jealousy,” wreaks of disappointment. To suggest that HaShem is green-eyed over a piece of wood, a slab of stone or shaped metal demeans HaShem; to suggest that HaShem is devastated that His people have no problem forsaking Him for a statue or for an idol is an understatement. Implicit is the understanding that rather than being the chosen people, HaShem chose a nation of rejects (you may wish to enrich your Yiddish vocabulary with term “oisvorff” – literally “throw out.”) HaShem is jealous that this group of 600,000 “oisvorffs” gave its commitment and loyalty to a lifeless object, rather than to the Creator of the Universe. How lamentable!
Jealousy, “good jealousy” is anything but an outgrowth of negative self-esteem. In fact, the exact opposite is the case. Jealousy, “good jealousy” is the product of a healthy self-image. No one with a healthy self-image will brook being treated like a “shmatteh” (another Polish/Yiddish word which means rag.) And when HaShem is treated like a “shmatteh” by His people and then sees an idol or statue, a hunk of metal, wood or stone, being accorded deference, HaShem cannot help but be jealous. Jealousy in this case, expresses indignation. Jealousy is an emotional response that is the equivalent of HaShem exclaiming: How dare you accord the respect and reverence due Me to something that is My creation!
Contrary to what western civilization teaches us about how love and jealousy are antithetical, it is the Zohar that teaches us that love without jealousy, is not true love. Conversely, there is nothing sadder than unrequited love. And yet, it is in the Haftorah of (the second day of) Rosh Hashana no less, that the prophet Jeremiah quotes HaShem telling us “I have loved you with eternal love.” It is tragedy when that love is not reciprocated; it is a travesty when that love is showered on a third party.
The Torah reading for this Shabbat opens with Pinchas, a grandson of Aaron, Moshe’s brother, assuaging HaShem’s jealousy. Pinchas discerned that HaShem’s jealousy came about because of dashed expectations. HaShem’s was incredulous at how He was being repaid by 600,000 “oisvorffs!” Pinchas was well aware of HaShem’s indignation. How dare the Israelites accord idols with the love and respect due Him! Pinchas was sensitive to the fact that as far as the Children of Israel were concerned, love was a one- way street. They readily accepted HaShem’s love, only to take that love and shower it elsewhere.
How ironic that it was Pinchas, and not his grandfather Aaron, who was served as a most suitable counterpart to Moshe. Moshe was adroit at assuaging HaShem’s anger; Pinchas was adroit at assuaging HaShem’s jealousy.