Making Your Grass Greener
Competition / Essays 2018
This essay will address feelings of jealousy and consequent despondency, demonstrating how through using a fundamental concept in Chasidic teachings called “Sovev” and “Memalei”, one can apply a method of thinking to increase satisfaction and happiness in one’s life.
Already in the Ten Commandments, G-d addresses one of the great challenges to human character: jealousy of a fellow’s belongings.
In this essay we will discuss seemingly justifiable jealousy; when I am missing something integral to a healthy life and think, “I wish I had such a good [insert as appropriate: family, marriage, job, income, friendship, positivity, etc.] as my friend!”
In some cases, I could even be jealous of something that is beyond my control, such as sickness, infertility, or other misfortunes. When missing something so important, human nature tends to notice more how everyone around seems to have plenty of it, to the point where life becomes despondent and miserable. How can I be happy with my life while missing something important that everyone else around me has?
• Method #1 – It’s only an illusion:
In order to prevent choking from the misery, my mind may reflexively build a protective shell saying, “Who says that person is really happy?” I begin formulating a speculation that their happiness is not true – it is only an appearance, an illusion formed by the superficial society we live in.
With the advancement of social media and the public access it offers, it is easier to fathom this. Let us take marriage as an example: a married couple I know post pictures of themselves on Instagram, Facebook, etc. taking a trip, enjoying a warm drink on a cold day, or just sitting and laughing together. When I see this, I feel pangs of jealousy, “Why isn’t my marriage as good as theirs?” But then I remember that it is just a picture, a lifeless image snapped to a perfect pose, providing the necessary fodder for them to feed their social status. I think, “Who could ever know how they feel about each other in real life together? Who could ever know how they were looking at each other the minutes before and after that picture…?”
This method tells me to relax my jealous feelings and be happy with my life, by realizing that not necessarily am I lacking what others seem to have.
This method can be summed up as, “The grass is greener on the other side – but it is artificial grass.”
While this method may indeed bandage my despondent feelings, it cannot be a real solution. Firstly, it would be delusional for me to think that everyone else’s happiness is always bogus and only surface-deep. Secondly, even if it were to be true, is the happiness in my life only able to exist on the account of everyone else’s being put down?!
• Method #2 – Look at the whole picture:
Another method(1) is to remember that no one has it perfect, and I could never really know someone else’s entire story. The same person I was jealous of for one thing may very well be jealous of me for something else.
Continuing with the above example, it could be that the loving couple indeed has a perfect marriage, but it could also be they struggle desperately to make ends meet. They could be looking at me saying “I wish we were as wealthy as he is…”, to which I would retort, “I’d give all the money in the world to have such a happy marriage…”, leading to a never-ending back and forth, until we both realize that instead of each focusing on what we’re missing, let us focus on what we each have.
This method tells me to be happy with my lot in life and not to be jealous of another’s, remembering that life is a package, that when seen in its entirety, may not actually be so appealing.
This method can be summed up as, “The grass is greener on the other side – but the trees are taller on my side.”
While this method indeed gives food for thought to be satisfied with one’s lot, it is not completely settling. Firstly, it focuses on pain and negativity, bringing to light that we all suffer. Secondly, and more importantly, it doesn’t directly deal with my feelings of jealousy from what he has, it instead diverts my attention to his suffering from what he does not have. But if I were to objectively separate the two, it is not telling me why not to be jealous of what he does have.
• Method #3 – This is your Memalei:
We will now present a unique method, based on a fundamental topic in Chassidus, “Sovev” and “Memalei”:
According to Zohar(2), G-d’s energy comes into this world in two ways, “Sovev kol olmin” (literally, “surrounding all the worlds”) and “Memalei kol olmin” (literally, “filling all the worlds”). At first glance, the difference between the two is simply, that the G-dly light and energy coming as Sovev only surrounds the worlds(3) but does not enter them, as opposed to Memalei which actually enters the worlds. The problem with this definition is, if Sovev does not enter the worlds, what kind of affect does it have on them for it to be named “Sovev kol almin”, (“surrounding all the worlds”) signifying a connection between it and the worlds?
Indeed, in Chassidus(4), Sovev is explained to be connected to the world; entering the world and supplying it with life and energy, just as Memalei. The difference between them is explained as following:
I. Abstract vs. Tangible:
In the channels of G-d’s giving, Sovev comes from a much higher source than Memalei. Its G-dly energy is indeed so powerful, that if its effect would be felt on a conscious level, we, as physical beings, would cease to exist(5). It is therefore given to us as a subconscious energy(6) without us feeling its effect. The name “Sovev” (“surrounding”) therefore means to imply that it is only abstractly felt(7).
The G-dly energy in Memalei however, is limited, thereby able to sustain us in a way that we could consciously feel and appreciate. It is for this reason called “Memalei” (“filling”), because we are able to connect to it on a palpable level, feeling its effect(8).
To explain this with a practical example of the two terms, man needs both air and food to exist, but they sustain in very different ways. Air is an encompassing element found all around. Although it is inhaled and enters the body, one does not normally pay any attention to it and does not consciously feel its effect – it is Sovev. Food on the other hand, is a very tangible sustenance, that in addition to filling the body, is consciously felt and therefore appreciated by the person.
II. General vs. Personal:
A consequent difference between Sovev and Memalei is, being that the energy coming as Sovev is too great from being tangibly felt, it need not be tailored to fit any individual creation’s needs. It is instead given, albeit in a subconscious form, to all creations equally. Memalei though, being that by definition is given with the intention of being felt and appreciated by the recipient, must vary as per the recipient’s needs.(9)
To explain this by means of continuing the above example, air – Sovev – is equally consumed by all. Air is not tailor-made to fit any individual requirements. Food on the other hand – Memalei¬ – is by nature a distinct experience for every person, meant to be appreciated by every person as per his individual needs.
To summarize the above, every creation contains two forms of G-dly energy:
1) A Sovev energy, which it does not consciously feel. This is shared equally by all creations.
2) A Memalei energy, which it tangibly feels and appreciates. This varies as per each creation’s individual needs.
Based on the above, imagine an aquatic animal, limited to a watery life, being jealous of a terrestrial animal, with its freedom of moving on land. If the fish were to theoretically be jealous of the sheep’s Sovev life and energy, the fish is justified – Sovev is meant to be equal for everything. Being however that the characteristics separating fish from sheep are individual (and tangible) ones – Memalei, then by definition it is meant to vary from one to the other, catering to each one’s individualized needs(10). What then does it mean to be jealous of another type’s life; to desire its needs and the method of its sustenance?
So too, when I see my friend’s good life, the first thing to realize is that it obviously is not a Sovev life – being that it is (tangible and) not a general life shared equally by everyone. That means, that it was given to him as his Memalei life. That must lead me to infer that his Memalei life is personalized for his needs and will not fit the glove for mine.
The feelings of jealousy that I initially had, desiring what he was given, are now replaced with an understanding that it was needed for him to deal with his needs. The rational conclusion follows then, that the same G-d who gave him his Memalei, gave me too my own individually packaged bundle to deal with my needs. What then do I need his for?!
The feelings of sadness and depression as well, are inevitably replaced with feelings of satisfaction and happiness, knowing that G-d who gave me my life, knows what I need in it, and gives me the necessary provisions to happily live it to its fullest.
To summarize in point form:
• Jealousy comes from feeling that what another person has could belong to me, leading me to desiring it and feeling down with its absence.
• What Chassidus teaches us is that life and energy which is tangibly felt is Memalei.
• Memalei by nature is different for every person, as per his individual needs.
• Only G-d, the Source of all life, truly knows the needs of each individual creation, properly sustaining it with its necessary and personal Memalei energy.
• I now understand that what G-d gave me serves my needs. What G-d gave that person serves his needs. I am therefore not even challenged with jealousy of what that person was given, and instead live happily with what was given to me, knowing that it is perfect – for me.
This method can be summed up as, “The grass is greener on the other side – for the other side. For my side – my grass is greener!”
1. Cited by: Rabbi Daniel Ohayon, Ohr Daniel (2001) p. 288, Rabbi Yaakov Goldberg, D’vir Kodsho (2011) p. 302, Rabbi Efraim Stein, Otzar Efraim (2012) p. 497-8.
2. Volume 3 p. 245A.
3. “Worlds” – plural – referring to both this physical world as well as the higher, spiritual worlds. In the essay however, we will mostly use “world” – singular – referring to this physical world, about which is the discussion.
4. The number of places in Chassidus where this topic is mentioned is immeasurable. Following, is a partial list of some of the early, fundamental books of Chassidus which elaborate on the above explanation of Sovev and Memalei: Tanya chapter 48, Torah Ohr Vayakhel p. 89B, Likutei Torah Shlach p. 48A, Ohr Hatorah Shemos vol. 6 p. 2152. This is in addition to particular points, sources of which will be referenced to throughout the essay.
5. Likutei Torah Bamidbar 16A.
6. Torah Ohr Shemos p. 54C.
7. Ma’amorei Admur Hazaken 5571 p. 146.
8. Likutei Sichos vol. 9, p. 194.
9. Hemshech Samach Vov p. 273 ff.
10. Likutei Torah Re’eh p. 33B.