The period in the Jewish calendar that we are in right now is traditionally known as Bein Hametzarim, "within the days of distress", and is sometimes referred to as "The Three Weeks". It started on Shivah Asar B’Tammuz, the Seventeenth day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, and ends three weeks later on the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, Tishah B'Av, the Ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av (this year Tishah B’Av falls out on Sunday July 26th).
This three-week period is a time of national mourning for the Jewish people, as many terribly tragic events in our history occurred during this time. Moses broke the Ten Commandments on the Seventeenth of Tammuz, the walls of the city of Jerusalem were breached, both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed on Tishah B'Av (and all that remains of the Temple today is the Kosel Hama'aravi - the Western Wall), the wicked king Apustomus burned the Holy Torah, the Expulsion from Spain was set for this time in 1492, and the list goes on and on. And, ultimately, our being exiled and dispersed among the nations only to be persecuted and tortured for the last 1900 or so years, is a direct result of the Romans destroying the Temple and expelling all the Jewish people from the land of Israel during this period in the year 70 C.E.
The Talmud in Yoma 9b teaches that the reason why the Second Temple was destroyed was because instead of loving our fellow man as commanded by the Torah “V’ahavta l’rayacha kamocha – you shall love your fellow as yourself” (see Leviticus 19:18), there was sinas chinam, baseless hatred between man and his fellow man. And the Sages tell us that as long as we don’t fix this problem and learn to love each other, the Holy Temple will not be rebuilt and we will have to remain in galus (exiled from our Jewish homeland).
Nachmanides (in his commentary to Leviticus ibid.) explains that it is impossible for the majority of people to feel literally the same love for others that they feel for themselves – so the Torah would never demand that. Rather, in commanding us to “love your fellow as yourself”, the Torah is asking us to remove all envy from our hearts, so that we will be happy with whatever our friend has just as we are happy with whatever we have.
For this reason, explains Nachmanides, the Torah doesn’t state “V’ahavta es rayacha kamocha”, which would mean that we are literally to love others as much as we love ourselves – a level that is unattainable for most of us. Rather, it says “V’ahavta l’rayacha kamocha” which technically translates as ‘You shall love to your fellow’ with the intended meaning that we are to love and be happy with whatever our friend has just as we love and are happy with whatever we have.
He writes further: “For a person may love his fellow to the extent that he wants him to be blessed in some ways and not in others. He may want him to be wealthy but not wise, and so on. And even if he loves him in all ways, he will wish his fellow to have wealth, property, honor, knowledge, and wisdom, but not to the same degree that he himself has them. In his heart, he still wants to have more than his neighbor. The Torah thus commands that the person should remove from his heart this lowly defect of jealousy. And he should be as happy when his friend is blessed with good things as he is when he himself is blessed in this way….”
Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler ZT”L in Michtav Mei’eliyahu (vol. 3 pp. 88-89) expands on the words of Nachmanides and offers a fascinating psychological insight.
Rav Dessler writes: “It is natural for man to want to feel unique. He therefore is constantly looking for any possession or quality he might have – small as it may be – through which he can feel unique and superior to those around him. This feeling of uniqueness and superiority he believes is critical for his emotional well-being, and he will he do all that he can so that others will recognize this uniqueness, for this is how he expresses his individuality and how he differs from others. The Torah, however, is revealing to us [in this commandment] that man’s need to feel unique and superior to those around him is really just the lowly character trait of jealousy and envy, for what is man truly missing if his fellow has the same possession or quality that he has?... The Torah thus commands that man give up his need to feel superior to those around him for the sake of the love of his fellow. If his wealth is what gives him the feeling of superiority, his obligation is to want that his fellow should be as wealthy as he is, and to realize that his true value is not diminished one iota through this…”
There is a great Yiddish word (which to the best of my knowledge has no English equivalent) for this ability to be happy for someone else and what they have, born of the realization that there is no competition and that what the other has doesn’t take anything away from what I have.
The word is fargin (pronounced [far-gin]; no relation to the slang term used by Roman Moronie in the 1984 movie Johnny Dangerously) and it basically means to rejoice in another’s good fortune.
So, for example, you might see your neighbor driving a brand new Jaguar. Instead of feeling jealous of him (even though you drive a Range Rover), say to yourself “I fargin him his Jaguar”. Or if your co-worker won the lottery and now has more money than you do, instead of feeling threatened by her as if she is somehow taking that money away from you, say “I fargin her the lottery money. She should use it well”.
Imagine what the world would look like if we could only learn to fargin a little more!