Weekly Torah Commentary — Pesach Shabbat March 30, 2013

For the Shabbat that occurs during the festival of Pesach, there is a special reading consistent with the feast: Shemot/Exodus 33:12 – 34:26

We read the following in Exodus 34:14: “…for you shall not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God—”

Jealousy is usually thought of as an ugly word. It carries with it thoughts of selfishness, suspicion, and distrust, and implies a hideous resentment or hostility toward other people because they enjoy some advantage. It is possessive, demanding, and overbearing; and that is repulsive. It stifles freedom and individuality, it degrades and demeans, it breeds tension and discord, it destroys friendships and marriages. In this context jealousy breeds multitudes of problems.

However, earlier in Exodus we read: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:4-5). How can a God who is holy, just, loving, gracious, merciful, and long-suffering possibly be jealous? Is there another side to jealousy that we have not considered?

The root idea in Hebrew word jealous is “to become intensely red”. It seems to refer to the changing color of the face or the rising heat of the emotions which are associated with intense zeal or fervor over something dear to us. In fact, certain verses translate the same word as ‘zeal’ or ‘zealous.’ Being jealous and being zealous are essentially the same thing from the Torah perspective. God is jealous; i.e. He is zealous, eager to protect what is precious to Him.

Hashem calls Israel His special possession; His unique treasure. I’ll take it a step further: He speaks of Israel as His wife! “And I will betroth you to Me forever” (Hosea 2:19).

Now, no man with any moral fiber wants to share his wife with another man. Neither does God. His relationship with Israel is one of intimate devotion and He expects Israel to reciprocate in kind. When Israel ‘played the harlot’, that is, when she worshiped other gods, committing spiritual adultery, Hashem was ‘jealous’. Therefore, it is very important to understand that whenever the term ‘jealousy’ is applied to Hashem in the Torah, it is usually because His people have turned to idols.

The marital relationship may be the best way to help us understand the difference between sinful jealousy and righteous jealousy. For example, if a husband’s resentment or anger erupts simply because he sees his wife talking to another man, it arises from a self-centered possessiveness or an unreasonable domination and is a sinful jealousy.

On the other hand, if another man is perceived as attempting to seduce his neighbor’s wife, the righteous jealousy of her husband is justified. She is his wife, and for someone else to attempt to interfere or break that relationship (G-d forbid!) is a violation of God’s law as well as a direct sin against the marriage. The husband should be zealous, jealous over the exclusive relationship he enjoys with his wife.

The Holy One feels the same way about Israel. There is no selfishness in His jealousy. It is the appropriate expression of His holiness.

It’s important to note the difference between jealousy and envy as well. Jealousy involves the desire to have what somebody else has. That may be wholesome, particularly when we desire to develop in our own lives the positive spiritual qualities we see in others. But jealousy can deteriorate into something negative, into bitterness because we fail to get what we want and resent those who have it instead.

On the other hand, envy is nearly always bad. It is a feeling of displeasure over the blessings others are enjoying and it makes us want to deprive them of that enjoyment. Jealousy wants what others have, while envy wants to keep them from having it. It is a vicious and malicious trait which King Solomon describes as “rottenness to the bones” (Proverbs 14:30).

When Hashem describes His name as ‘Jealous’, it is not a passing mood. It is an expression of His very essence. As the Highest and Greatest Being there is, infinitely holy and glorious, He of necessity is zealous over His honor, His integrity, His Torah and His people. That is what He means when He says, “I shall be jealous for My holy name” (Ezekiel 39:25). His jealousy does not grow out of insecurity, anxiety, frustration, covetousness, pride, or spite, as ours usually does. It is the natural and necessary by-product of His absolute sovereignty and infinite holiness.

Therefore, those who love Him should be just as jealous for Him. If we are serious about our relationship with Him, we shall exalt Him above everyone and everything else in our lives; we shall be absolutely dedicated to living for His honor; we shall be zealously committed to doing His will.
The truth of His jealousy challenges us to put Him before all else. Getting to know Him as a jealous God will increase our level of devotion to Him, deepen our trust in Him, and strengthen our resolve to live by His Torah.

In Tune with Torah this week = Examine your life style prayerfully. Has anyone or anything assumed a more prominent place in your life than your personal relationship with Hashem? If so, take some decisive and concrete steps to enthrone Him again as King of your life.

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