The Evil “I”
I find myself looking at what others have and being covetous about why they have it and I don’t. I realize I am judging other people and that this is a bad thing, but I find it very difficult to control. Can you please give me some practical advice about this? Thanks.
It is certainly “natural” to want good things, even if they belong to others. G-d created us with a desire to acquire. However, of course, G-d intends that this impulse be harnessed for good, in order to be able to provide for ourselves, raise a family and fulfill their needs — all in the context of Torah and mitzvot. It is for this reason, then, that G-d forbids coveting the belongings of others.
The first thing to remember is that everything is from G-d. We are allowed and encouraged to strive to attain what we think is good and appropriate within the realm of Torah. However, what each person actually receives is up to G-d, and G-d, seeing the whole picture, knows best. After one has decided that it acceptable from a Torah point of view to have a certain thing, he may try to obtain it. If he is not able to acquire it while someone else is, he must view this as a sign that it is not G-d’s will that he have it right now. Questioning why others have it and he doesn’t is tantamount to disagreeing with G-d.
A second point to consider is that it’s not good for us to look into another person’s plate. A person has to be concerned and satisfied with his own portion in life. Thus our Sages taught, “Who is truly happy? One who is satisfied with his lot.” Again, this doesn’t mean that one can’t try to improve difficulties in his life, but he should be concerned with evaluating his own portion, and not the portions of others. This will ultimately make a person happier and more content with his own life. So for purely pragmatic reasons, it’s better not to focus on what others have because doing so causes anguish, while focusing on one’s own plate makes a person more content with his own lot in life.
A third tactic to keep one’s eyes off others belongings is to deflect the judgments of the courtroom in our minds back to ourselves. When we find ourselves scrutinizing why others have what we want, we should immediately ask ourselves, “Do I deserve what I have? Why do I have these things when others don’t?” Just asking these questions about ourselves can discourage us from judging others for two reasons: one, we wouldn’t want other people to be asking these questions about us (so we shouldn’t be asking them about others); two, we’d hardly be comfortable thinking that in fact we don’t deserve what we’ve got such that it should be taken away.
In conclusion: 1] We should accustom ourselves to realizing that everything that a person has or doesn’t have is from G-d. 2] Constantly looking at what others have will make us unhappy, while focusing on what we have will make us happier. 3] If one is going to evaluate, let him evaluate and judge himself — he’ll either realize it’s not worth judging, or he’ll be thankful for what he has since he probably doesn’t even deserve what he’s got, let alone what he doesn’t have, or he may even come to improve himself when he becomes aware of his own shortcomings!