The Rav mentioned earlier that the qualities that a person possesses can be used for good or bad. In what way is the middah of jealousy and envy a good middah?
Envy is a glorious mechanism that Hakodosh Boruch Hu has bestowed upon Mankind in order to help us achieve perfection. Envy is the sparkplug, the way, to acquire good things that you don’t have. The word קנאה, envy, comes from the word קונה, to acquire. Only that קנאה means that you want to take what somebody else has. קונה means to acquire, and קנאה means to desire to take away what somebody else has.
Therefore, if you see that somebody has good practices, it’s good to be envious, to be jealous of those good things. When people are polite, you should be envious of that. You see a man talking politely to his wife, you should be jealous. You should come home and practice it to your own wife. When you see people who are standing a long sh’monah esrei, be envious of that, and you should try standing a longer one. You see people who are learning, accomplishing mesichtas and seforim, so you try to learn too. All good things are facilitated by קנאה, envy.
That’s what it says in the Gemara, קנאת סופרים תרבה חכמה – “The envy of the men of the book, increases wisdom” (Bava Basra 21a). That’s why Hashem made קנאה. To give you that push forward to acquire good things. It’s only when you’re not intending to acquire any good things; you’re looking at the other person, and you don’t want him to have it. You’re jealous because he has it. That’s wicked קנאה. You don’t want to work on acquiring the good middah that you see by your fellow, you’re just not happy that he has it.
And then there’s the קנאה for material things. Now, you have a right to try better yourself, to improve your situation. Why not?! You have a right to buy a better house, better furniture; whatever it is. But that it should eat you up?! That means that your head is on the wrong subjects. You’re not thinking right. Why aren’t you eaten up with envy when other people are more pious, and more decent than you are? That’s what envy is for.
TAPE # 623 (December 1986)