Let My People Know

"The spirit of envy"

The great Hassidic Rebbe known as "the Holy Jew" said that he owed his great achievements to a blacksmith. 

In his youth, he lived next to a diligent blacksmith who would begin working very early every morning. 

When the Holy Jew heard him work, he would say to himself, "This man is just working for money; I am studying Torah, which is much higher and nobler. If he can deprive himself of sleep, and rise to work so early, how can it be that I cannot get up at that time?" 

He then began to rise for his study a little bit earlier. 

The blacksmith heard the Holy Jew studying aloud, and he thought to himself, "I work for my livelihood, but this young man does not earn anything for his studies.If he can rise this early, then I can rise even earlier." 

So he did. 

The Holy Jew then started a little bit earlier, and they went on competing in this way for quite a while. 

The Holy Jew then said that the competition gained him so much time that he was able to achieve greatness.

In this competition, neither the Holy Jew nor the blacksmith lost anything; both only gained. 

They used the spirit of envy to find a common measure—their use of time—and competed about using that time for doing the work they wanted to do. 

This envy created a spirit of rivalry, a desire for victory, the urge to be uppermost, and it spurred two people, in different walks of life and in different realms, into doing more—each in his own way. 

–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
From Simple Words by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz