From the Sfas Emes blog
The mishna in Avos teaches us that, “הַקִּנְאָה וְהַתַּאֲוָה וְהַכָּבוֹד מוֹצִיאִין אֶת הָאָדָם מִן הָעוֹלָם/Jealousy, lust and pursuing self honor takes a man out of this world.” (Avos 4:21) In this ma’amar the Sfas Emes teaches us why jealousy takes a person out of this world. We do not have to look far to find an example of jealousy taking a person out of this world. This week’s parsha gives us the classic example of Korach whose jealousy of Aharon’s priesthood resulted in his death and a catastrophe for his family and the nation.
What is it about jealousy that causes such disastrous results? Korach’s case was an acute situation wherein Moshe Rabbeinu’s divine authority was being challenged. Drastic action was called for. The Tanna, though, does not confine his statement to specific situations. Why does the Tanna teach us that all jealousy takes a person out of the world?
To answer this question the Sfas Emes teaches us something fundamental about jealousy. Jealousy is possible when we do not identify with the other person. And the opposite as well; it is impossible to be jealous of an other with whom we identify. Korach’s jealousy, for all his words denying this, stemmed from a lack of identification with the nation. Korach was extremely egocentric.
The Sfas Emes teaches us that identifying with the nation of Israel means connecting with the source of life and existence. This is because the roots of all the souls merge as one powerful spiritual entity. The Sfas Emes explains elsewhere that this spiritual entity, called כְּנֶסֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל/the congregation of Israel, is part of the spiritual hierarchy through which God created and continues to create the world. And when we connect with the inner source of all life, we automatically connect with the nation of Israel.
This explains an interesting dialouge between a non-Jew who wanted to convert and Hillel. The would be convert asked Hillel to teach him the entire Torah while he stood on one leg. Hillel told him, “What you do not like, do not do to your friend. The rest is explanation. Go learn it.”How is this statement a condensation of the entire Torah? Hillel of course understood that the Torah is the source of life. Chazal teach us that God created the world with the Torah. And God gave us the Torah as a mechanism for coming close to and experiencing Him. Therefore, Hillel told the would be convert that the main teaching of the Torah is to identify, to empathize with all life. This is the main way to connect with the source of life, which is the Torah. Everything else in the Torah are ways to connect with and experience the source of all life.
The Chiddushei HaRim notes that we see this concept as well in a pasuk that the commentaries cite to support the Tanna of this Mishna, "... רְקַב עֲצָמוֹת קִנְאָה/… envy brings rotting of the bones.” (Mishlei 14:30)Yosef whom the Zohar calls the keeper of the covenant, an allusion to his connection with God even as he lived in the physical and decadent Egypt, instructed his brothers before he died, “... וְהַעֲלִתֶם אֶת־עַצְמֹתַי מִזֶּה/… and you will take my bones from here.” Jealousy separates one from God. The bones of the jealous therefore rot. Yosef who was connected to God was not concerned with rotting bones. He was able to instruct his brothers to bring his bones out of Egypt at the time of the redemption.
Amazing things happen when we recognize the inner life force that permeates the world. Firstly, since this life force is spiritual it is outside of time. The would be convert understood that he could connect to the spiritual through the Torah. He therefore asked Hillel to teach it to him while standing on one foot. The time it would take to learn the entire Torah was not a concern because he was more interested in the result of learning Torah, that is a connection to the spiritual which is beyond time.
Another amazing thing that happens is that a person’s actions become completely focused. Even though we do many different and varied things, when we understand and internalize that there is a spiritual underlying source of life we find that our intent behind all our varied activities becomes one, the revelation of the underlying spirituality. Happily, we do not have to figure out how to do this on our own. The would be convert understood that the way to connect is through the Torah. Since it is through the Torah that God created the world, the Torah is the great unifying force in the Creation. Hillel explained that the first step was love of Israel since we are also at the root of the Creation.
Jealousy, on the other hand causes separation. It takes a person out of the world. The Hebrew for world – עוֹלָם – connotes concealment – הֶעֶלָם.The physical world conceals God. But, paradoxically, the physical world is also the tool that God gave us to reveal Him within it. The egocentricity, the lack of identification with the other that is required in order to be jealous separates us from God. Revelation and jealousy are opposites. Jealousy therefore “takes us out of the world.” May we merit identifying with every individual and fulfilling Hillel’s dictum, “What you do not like, do not do to your friend.”
 Sfas Emes Kedoshim 5631 First Ma’amar