Think Good, Feel Good
by Miri Korbman
In this week’s Parsha, Moshe repeats the Ten Commandments to Klal Yisrael. One of these commandments is “lo sachmod eishes rei’acha, v’lo sisavah… chol asher li’reiacha,” do not desire your friend’s wife, and do not covet… anything that belongs to your friend (Devarim 5:18). This Mitzvah, not to be jealous, not to desire another’s belongings, is but one of many commandments that seems to dictate not only how a Jew must act, but how a Jew ought to feel, as well. The Ibn Ezra, commenting on the Psukim in the first recounting of the Dibros (Shmos 20:14) asks the age-old question: How can God command us to feel something? Surely, we have almost no control over what we feel!
Of course, this is far from the truth. Modern psychology, and most specifically the field of cognitive therapy pioneered by Aaron T. Beck, has provided extensive evidence that emotions actually can be traced to our thoughts and beliefs.
Imagine the following scenario. Two friends are walking together through an amusement park, searching for a new ride or attraction. They come upon a roller coaster of King Du Ka proportions. One friend takes a look at the coaster and says, “No way!” and runs away. The other friend shouts, “Awesome!” and immediately runs to get online. What is going on internally for these two individuals, and why do they exhibit such different reactions to the same stimulus (the roller coaster)?
The answer lies in what each one was thinking. The friend who fled likely had the thought, “I can’t get on that, it’s too high, it’s dangerous, what if something bad happens?!” He or she likely then felt scared, perhaps terrified, which caused the immediate flight from the scene. The other friend, however, might have been thinking, “Wow, look how high that goes! That’ll be so fun, and I’ll really enjoy the thrill!” He or she likely then felt excited, exhilarated, and therefore immediately joined the queue for the ride. The difference between these two friends’ reactions is seen in their behavior, driven by their emotions, and ultimately rooted in their thoughts.
Rav Wolbe notes that the Torah can command us regarding our feelings because our thoughts and beliefs dictate how we feel. Jealousy, coveting that which belongs to our fellow, is a feeling that results from the belief that something our friends or neighbors or colleagues have or have experienced ought to be ours. When we feel jealous or desirous of something that belongs to someone else, whether it is his or her material possessions, job, or perhaps life status, it is likely that there is a belief underlying that feeling of jealousy, a thought that we ought to have what that person possesses.
Rav Wolbe explains that behind the command not to be jealous of our fellow Jews is really a call to reinforce our trust and faith in God. When one has faith that God provides for him, that all that I need I have and all that I have I need, when we truly internalize that God does not make mistakes in allocating anything to anyone, then feeling jealous no longer fits. When my thoughts reflect an understanding that God provides for me exactly as is fit for me, and that nothing that anyone else has in any way detracts from what I need to live the life I’m meant to have, then I can live free of jealousy. If I do not believe that God provides, that it is His will that dictates every material possession I own, every cent of money in my bank account, and every milestone along my personal and professional journey, then I will constantly be feeling jealous of others and worried about my own status. However, if my belief is that God has set aside for me every last penny, every relationship, every accolade, every encounter and interaction and experience that I am meant to have, and that He has done and continues to do this for each and every person, then when I gaze upon what others possess in comparison to my own possessions, the feeling that arises is merely one of contentment and understanding.
As the summer begins to wind down, we will no doubt have opportunities for comparison. Where have others traveled, what experiences have they had? What awaits them as the year begins anew, and what has changed to stay the same? Jealousy changes form as we age, and what we might covet shifts shapes as we develop, but the root of jealousy is and always will be a lack of Bitachon. The Torah can command us regarding our emotions, because we do possess the power to change how we feel by adjusting how we think about God and our relationship with Him. Hashem gives us all exactly what we need. If we can strengthen our belief in that crucial tenet, we can certainly strengthen our observance of that important commandment.