Always Look Below

Garden of EdenBiblical history paints a stunning portrait of the human experience. It tells of great heroes, evil kings, selfless acts, and tragic losses. In short, it is a mirror of our experiences, the journey of mankind. Perhaps, the most emphasized theme in all Biblical literature is “evil” - the great antithesis to mankind's spiritual mission. On the very same day Adam was formed, placed in “Gan Eden” (the Garden of Eden),  and given the command to not eat from the forbidden tree, evil got busy. It searched high and low for a “gateway,” a portal into man’s psyche. It found its would-be-messenger in the form of a “Nachash” - the “snake” of Eden. Our Sages, of Blessed memory, tell us that this “snake” stood upright (it had legs) and possessed illustrious faculties second only to man himself. Explain the Sages, it (the snake) was intended to be the great “servant” of man - an extension of his spiritual mission. Sadly, its great potential, its noble destiny, was never realized, for the snake possessed one particularly loathsome trait that would transform it into an agent of evil: jealousy. The snake was jealous of Adam and Eve’s love (the bond they shared) and desired nothing more than to take Eve for himself. Evil rejoiced for its search was finally over, a deliverer had been found. Evil “hijacked” the snake’s faculties and, using its insatiable envy, contrived a plan that would culminate in the death of mankind.

        Such is the danger of jealousy, for it robs a person of happiness (the good fortune he/she possesses) by affixing the “eyes” (the focus of the mind) on the blessings of others. Now, if jealousy is indeed the “gateway” to all evil - the first of all negative traits mentioned in Torah - it stands to reason that its fixing is the “gateway” to all good! Simply stated, when we stop lusting after the riches of others we become greatly attuned to the riches (the Divine gifts) we possess. In short, we become happy.

And how may one reorient his/her eyes to see (and hence appreciate) the good fortune in one’s life?

Answer: look down!

        Explains the Talmud (last Mishnah in Tractate Ta’anit), when the unmarried maidens would seek out a potential husband (this occurred twice a year) they would prepare by borrowing a simple white garment. This ceremonial garment could only be taken from one who was “below” in status, e.g. the daughter of the king (the highest status in the land) would borrow from the daughter of the High Priest (the status directly below). Each maiden would borrow a garment (for the duration of the event) directly from another who was one step below in status and rank. Question: why is it so important that each maiden acquire her “evening gown” from one who is “below”? Is it really so wrong to “look up” and ask one who is more privileged for the required textile?

Explains the great Kabbalist, Rabbi Yoseph Chaim of Baghdad (known affectionately as the “Ben Ish Chai”), there is a great lesson to be learned from these maidens about achieving lasting happiness. In short, when one practices “looking down” and seeing (internalizing) that, compared to so many others, one’s lot (one’s good fortune) is truly abundant, happiness is fostered. Explains the Ben Ish Chai, if, God forbid, we practice “looking up” (fixating on the possessions of others), we will always feel (for lack of seeing our own good fortune) deficient. Such an emotion leads to the jealousy that robbed from the snake of Eden its Divine potential and future happiness - seized as he was by evil’s merciless grip.

Summary: Jealousy (the trait of the snake) begins with a shift of perspective, a change of the eyes from “below” (seeing the difficulties of others and appreciating one’s good fortune) to “above” (fixating on the holdings of others and forgetting one’s good fortune). To rectify this primordial tendency (this ancient character flaw) we need only remember that when it comes to happiness, ALWAYS look “below”!

Constructive Conflict
Evil Has Two Faces