Jealousy sits at the core of the human experience. Who, at some stage or other, has not experienced the emotion that can shake the strongest emotional foundations? As we look at twin tales of envy – Biblical and Shakespearean – we shall discover a clue to fulfilling our life goals and accelerating the achievement of our ambition.
The Accused Wife sits at the heart of the Book of Numbers (Chapter 5), a woman who is suspected of adultery (the Sotah) and is taken to the priest. She drinks a bitter water potion that proves harmless if she’s innocent, and fatal if not. Her husband is empowered with the ability to see if his jealousy is justified, unlike Shakespeare’s tragic hero Othello, a man who is stirred to misplaced jealousy against his wife by a man who wanted to destroy their innocent marriage – “[Othello] is of a constant, loving, noble nature, /And I dare think he’ll prove to Desdemona a most dear husband” (2:ii).
Let us take a deeper look at the internal aspects of the Biblical tale. We all have masculine and feminine aspects to our personality, and one question to ask is where you have been unfaithful to yourself?
In other words, if we consider our masculine aspect as representative of ambition and the drive for direct achievement, and our feminine side as the more sensitive, nuturing and circuitous approach, when have you become distracted from your goal and stayed in a comfort zone or become lost in a tangent?
Although we do not become ‘jealous’ of ourselves per se, we can experience serious discontent when we become distanced from our ambition and our original plans. Although goals can change, when our language becomes peppered with “I should have..” or “I could have…”, it is a clue that our heart is elsewhere. Hopefully we do not find ourselves saying “I should have married someone else”, although those words are not unknown in the course of human history.
When we take responsibility for not being faithful to ourselves and our goals, one response is to withdraw from the world. Ironically this is the following Biblical passage with the tale of the ascetic Nazir, a person who enters a sustained period of meditation and during which he refrains from physical pleasures – yet he is not singled out for special praise for doing so. There are no points given for being a recluse and he has to undergo some effort before rejoining society.
What is the answer when we turn around and realise “I could have spent that year more productively?” or we become frustrated because we did not achieve a particular goal we had set out for? The first stage is take responsibility and to recognise our original intention, as we can only get back on track if we recognise what we were originally pursuing.
Staying ‘married’ to our original intention may lack spice and excitement, especially when compared to the ‘affair’ of a new tangential delight, but the long-term rewards and depths of inner fulfilment are immeasurable. This weekend, consider the commitments you made to yourself and didn’t follow through on; it’s never too late.
HOW TO APPLY THIS IN THE BOARDROOM: What is the most important thing you need to achieve in the work arena that you’ve been avoiding? What are three steps you can take towards achieving your goal?
HOW TO APPLY THIS ON THE YOGA MAT/MEDITATION CUSHION: Listen closely to your body and hold the question: ‘how have I been unfaithful to myself and my goals?’. Or, for a more religious approach, ‘how have I been unfaithful to God?’.
This is based on a Chassidic-style reading of Parshat Nasso. Chapter 19 of Tanya hints towards this reading of Sotah. It is a Lubavitch custom to learn the Talmudic tractate of Sotah between Passover and Shavuot, because the subject of infidelity is a metaphor for the Children of Israel’s multiple infidelities to God, as they repeatedly worshipped idols.