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The Jealous Neighbor

The Jealous Neighbor

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Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov once said to his disciples:

“There once lived two neighbors, a Torah scholar and an impoverished laborer. The scholar would wake before dawn, rush to the study hall and study for several hours. He would then pray at length and with great devotion, hurry home for a quick bite of breakfast, and return to the study hall for more hours of study. After the noon meal he would go to the market and engage in some minimal dealing—just enough to earn him his basic needs—then back to the study hall. After evening prayers and the evening meal, he would again sit over the sacred books till late into the night.

“His neighbor would also wake early, but his situation did not allow for much Torah study: no matter how hard he struggled to earn a living, he barely succeeded in putting bread on the table. He would pray quickly with the first minyan at daybreak, and then his labor would consume his entire day and the greater part of his night. On Shabbat, when he finally had the opportunity to take a book in his hands, he would soon drop off from exhaustion.

“When the two neighbors would pass each other in the yard, the scholar would throw the crass materialist a look of contempt and hurry on to his holy pursuits. The poor laborer would sigh and think to himself: How unfortunate is my lot, and how fortunate is his. We’re both hurrying—but he’s rushing to the study hall, while I’m off to my mundane burdens.

“Then, it came to pass that the two men concluded their sojourn on earth, and their souls stood before the heavenly court, where the life of every man is weighed upon the balance scales of divine judgment. An advocate-angel placed the scholar’s many virtues in the right cup of the balance scales: his many hours of Torah study, his meditative prayers, his frugality and honesty. But then came the prosecuting angel, who placed a single object on the other side of the scales—the look of contempt that the scholar would occasionally send his neighbor’s way. Slowly, the left side of the scales began to dip, until it equaled, and then exceeded, the formidable load on the right.

“When the poor laborer came before the heavenly court, the prosecutor loaded his miserable, spiritually void life on the left scales. The advocating angel had but one weight to offer—the sorrowful, covetous  sigh the laborer would emit when he encountered his learned neighbor. But when placed on the right side of the scales, the sigh counterweighted everything on the negative side, lifting and validating every moment of hardship and misery in the laborer’s life.”

Yanki Tauber served as editor of Chabad.org
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Nate Farber Truckee CA January 28, 2016

I just want you to know, within an instant, your comment and explanation changed my future and point of view forever for the better. Wow. Reply

Anonymous December 26, 2013

Yea the poor guy had a bad financial life but he had the life of job. Reply

Michael Rudmin Portsmouth,va November 6, 2013

In this very chabad issue, is an article on the defense of chassidic life. It is well worth a read, not only in its own right, but also to answer your question.

Look it up here on chabad.org, 'In-Defense-of-Chassidism'

Chassidism does not reject the Torah. It rejects coldhearted Torah study. If you will, in my own words, it believes that true study of the Torah can only begin in prayer.

This story does not show contempt for the Torah; it shows that the prayers we make are far more important than the amount of time we spend -- though the time spent is also very important.

That look of contempt was an emotional prayer; that sigh of wishing to spend one's time in the torah, was also a prayer. The first was worse than worthless.

I say this, as one who believes that his prayers are often so unworthy as to be worse than worthless. Reply

Shoshana Jerusalem November 6, 2013

Could you please tell me the source of this story? Being that the Baal Shem Tov was himself a great Torah scholar, it is hard to believe that he told this story in such an anti-Torah study way, and it's hard to believe at all. Because if a person is really a Torah scholar he wouldn't act In such a manner.


In the charedi and predominantly kollel community that I live in, everyone gets along beautifully, with the greatest respect for one another, and I have never heard of or seen any kind of contempt. Of course, there could always be an exception, as the above story shows. Reply

Anonymous OK November 6, 2013

The laborer was not coveting anything belonging to the rich guy, he was coveting the time to study and pray. He did attempt these things with the time that he did have available. Reply

Elynor Phila November 6, 2013

How could the covetous sigh have been counted on the righteous side of the scale, when one of the 10 commandments is to "not covet" anything that one's neighbor has? Reply

Hermes New-York City NY November 5, 2013

What a beautiful tale and powerful Teaching! Humility is certainly not easy to acquire yet it is a among the greatest qualities.
Of course the Best Quality to acquire is Consciousness which can lead to all the others. Reply

Jewgirl December 24, 2013

Everything comes from HaShem so we should be grateful to Him. The scholar instead of giving his neighbor the look, he should have prayed to HaShem to easy his neighbors burden so he could study some Torah. Arrogance has no value in heaven.. Reply

Jewgirl November 3, 2013

Everything comes from HaShem so we should be grateful to Him. The scholar instead of giving his neighbor the look, he should have prayed to HaShem to easy his neighbors burden so he could study some Torah. Arrogance has no value in heaven.. Reply

Mary North Highlands, Ca. March 7, 2013

Such a good story...No matter what your lot in life, it isn't the struggle that really gets you down its the what you face it... Just think of how good there lot would have been if they had just combined there efforts with the blessings that each one had to offer... Reply

Zalmey SA November 7, 2012

So... I'm wondering... Did the Rabbi eventually get his deserved reward in Gan Eden? Reply

Mariam November 17, 2010

Very thought-provoking story. Reply

Nozomu Willowdale, Ontario January 3, 2010

It must be true. But, surely, even to this, there is a point to this. For the holy Torah scholar, he still must learned the humility and the utter selflessness to express G_d to his brothers. As for the poor laborer, G_d wants to shows His satisfaction to him, and more over, his sitation in the Earthly life was already predestined, and he had successfully fulfilled his mission. Hmm....the laborer's story is deep... Reply

Kayo Tokyo, Japan January 3, 2010

Struggling in studying Chassidus, this Baal Shem Tov's story is very encouraging. Reply

Learn about the life and teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the 18th century mystic who permanently changed the Jewish landscape.
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