Most of us are familiar with the story of Joseph and his brothers. The Torah[1] relates that Yaacob loved Joseph more than all his sons and he made him a ketonet passim, a “coat of colors”. This caused Joseph’s brothers to feel jealous and to hate him, and ultimately to sell him as a slave to some passing merchants who took him down to Egypt.

Rashi on this verse, cites a Midrash which teaches that the Hebrew word passim which is used to describe Joseph’s colorful tunic is actually an acronym. It represents the troubles and tribulations that Joseph would have to endure. Passim is spelled pei, samech, yud, mem, and stands for those who were involved in selling him down to Egypt as a slave: Potiphar (a courtier of Pharaoh), Socharim (merchants), Yishmaelim (Arabs), and Midianim (Midianites).

The Torah commentators derive a very important lesson from this Midrash regarding jealousy and how to deal with it. They point out the incredible irony that the very same ketonet passim which was the cause of the brother’s jealousy of Joseph also represented the very unenviable ordeal that Joseph had to go through as a pitiful slave being sold from one group to the next. Had the brothers only foreseen all the suffering that Joseph would have to experience in his life at the hands of the four slave masters, they would not have been so quick to envy him in the first place.

A true story is a case in point. A woman named Shoshana walks into a dinner party with a much older man. At dinner, the lady sitting next to the woman turns to her and says, “That’s a beautiful diamond you’re wearing there. In fact, I think it’s the most beautiful diamond I have ever seen!” “Thank you,” replies Shoshana. “This is the Cohen Diamond.” “The Cohen Diamond? Is there a story to it?” “Oh yes, the diamond comes with a curse.” “A curse?” asks the lady. “What curse?”… “Mr. Cohen.” Sometimes the very object of our envy – be it an amazing coat of many colors or a magnificent diamond or even our next door neighbor’s wife – might really be the biggest curse. So we had better be careful about what we are jealous of.

This “lesson in envy” is beautifully illustrated in the Tenth Commandment, where G-d commands the Jewish people not to covet that which belongs to our neighbor. The Torah[2] then adds that we should not covet “everything that belongs to our neighbor”.

These apparently extra words teach us a profound lesson, as they point to the fact that we tend to covet selectively, rather than perceiving the entire picture when it comes to the object of our desire. It is as though G-d says to us, “Really, you covet your friend’s job? You want to have what he has? You want to be him? Okay, fine with me. You’ll get the money he has. But you’ll also get everything else he has. You’ll have to put up with his tyrannical boss, his wife who makes his life miserable, and his kids who are spoiled rotten and who never talk to him unless they need money!”

The Gemara[3] teaches that since the day that the Temple was destroyed the gates of prayer have been sealedin heaven, but the Gates of Tears are never closed. The Kotzker Rebbe ZT”L asks why do the “Gates of Tears” need gates if they are never closed? The answer is that the gates are there to block the tears of those who are crying for things that are not good for them.

How often do we envy that which belongs to others and we pray and cry to Hashem to give us things that we think are good for us and what we really need, but which are in actuality quite harmful for us.

The Torah view is to place our trust in our Father in Heaven Who knows exactly what each and every one of us truly needs at any stage of our life, instead of envying and crying for what might just be the biggest curse in our lives.


[1] Bereshit 37:3.

[2] See  Shemot 20:14.

[3] Berachot 32b.

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