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Welcome to our Shabbos Table!
We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.
Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book. To respond, email us at responses@ourtable.org.

Parshas Vayeishev/ Jewish Jealousy

“And [Yosef] said to [his brothers], ‘Listen now to this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the midst of the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright, and behold, your sheaves encircled [it] and prostrated themselves to my sheaf.’ And his brothers said to him, ‘Will you reign over us, or govern us?!’ And they continued to hate him more on account of his dreams and his words. And he again dreamed another dream, and he related it to his brothers and said, ‘Behold, I have dreamed another dream, and behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were prostrating themselves to me.’ … And his brothers envied him…” (Bereishis 37: 6–9, 11).

As Yaakov’s sons grew up together in Canaan, Yosef’s relationship with his brothers was already strained by his father’s favoring him with a special coat. His seemingly self-centered dreams now made matters even worse.

Yet why did Yosef’s two dreams evoke different emotions in his brothers, the first dream increasing their hatred, and the second dream their jealousy?

Assets vs. Essence

The Beis HaLevi (ibid.) explains that the first dream’s central image was sheaves of grain, foreshadowing Yosef’s material superiority over his brothers. The second dream, in which the sun, the moon, and twelve stars bowed to Yosef, suggested that he was their spiritual superior as well. For the twelve zodiac signs that govern the course of the world would focus on him, the “righteous one who is the foundation of the world” (Mishlei 10:25).

A rich man is inherently no better than a poor man, for wealth is no reflection of one’s essence. As the Beis HaLevi’s contemporaries used to say of a wealthy friend, “My wallet should be embarrassed by his, but I’m not embarrassed by him.” But when it comes to spirituality, one who studies Torah and worships Hashem really is greater than his fellow.

Thus, writes the Beis HaLevi, in the first dream, the brothers’ sheaves bowed to Yosef’s sheaf, not to Yosef himself, for his wealth wasn’t an intrinsic element of who he was. In the second dream, however, the stars bow to Yosef directly, for his spiritual attainments pertain to his essence.

Likewise, the brothers felt no jealousy upon hearing the first dream. Tzaddikim have no desire for great wealth. The brothers did hate Yosef, though, for thinking that they would look to him for sustenance. But following the second dream they were jealous, for they didn’t want to be outstripped spiritually. This type of jealousy is permitted, as the verse says, “Let your heart envy not sins but the fear of Hashem…” (ibid. 23:17). (Beis HaLevi, trans. Yisrael Isser Zvi Herczeg [Targum Press, 1990])

In fact, if we may add to the Beis HaLevi, such jealousy is even constructive, for “The envy of scribes increases wisdom” (Bava Basra 21a).

Question for Discussion:

We should reserve our jealousy for spiritual success, not material, for “spiritual envy” can propel us forward in our service of Hashem. What is one area in which you’re jealous of someone’s spiritual accomplishments and wish you could do the same?