Christian theology views Envy as one of the Seven Deadly Sins, to be avoided at all costs. In contrast, Judaism does not see Envy as the embodiment of absolute evil, but rather as an emotion that, on the one hand, demonstrates the weakness and vulnerability of human character and, on the other, is rather beneficial to humankind's development.

The Hebrew root for envy is(kof, nun, alef). According to Wilhelm Gesenius, the nineteenth-century father of modern Hebrew lexicography, our root was probably originally tied to an Arabic word meaning "to become intensely red with dye." In Hebrew, by a facile linguistic leap, the word came to be used for the color of one's face when experiencing intense emotion and then for the emotion itself.

The word(kin'ah), is today commonly translated as jealousy, zealotry, envy, and even suspicion of adultery on the part of one's spouse. In Genesis, the root is used to move the narrative along by describing a universal human trait, sibling rivalry. We are told that the matriarch Rachel, despondent over her barren state in the face of her sister Leah's repeated demonstration of fertility, "became jealous of her sister": (ve-tekaneh rahel be-ahotah).

Later, the same root is used in connection with Rachel's son, Joseph. Joseph's special status as favorite son was thrown glaringly in the face of the other sons when father Jacob gave only Joseph the gift of a special coat. And the brothers were jealous indeed: (va- yekan'u vo ehav).

Sometimes the root is used to express not jealousy but zealotry, another fervent and intense emotion. Take for example its use in connection with the story of Moses and the rebellion of Eldad and Medad (Numbers 11:29). When Joshua suggests that Moses put down the rebellion harshly, Moses responds (ha- mekaneh atah li?), "Why are you being so zealous for my sake?" Moses would rather, he explains, that all Israelites were prophets.

There is zealotry, and then there is Zealotry. During the revolt against Rome in Second Temple times, there arose a political party, the (kanna'im ), who were against any compromise with Rome. Whether one agrees or not with the political stance of this movement, it cannot be denied that their name moved from being a "brand" name to a "generic" one. The same expression is used in modern times to describe those individuals for whom love of the Hebrew language is ardent and exclusive, (kanna'im la-safah ha-ivrit), zealots for the Hebrew language.

The Rabbis were of two minds about our rootword. On the one hand, they described human nature as essentially envious. They said, (Sanhedrin, 105b) (bakol adam mitkane), "One is envious of everyone," And then they added in their wisdom,( hutz mibno ve-talmido), "except for one's children and students."

The language of the Yalkut Shim'oni (a widely popular thirteenth-century compilation of midrashim) sounds like that of a football coach speaking of the healthy competitive spirit. There it is written, (ilmaleh ha-kin'ah, ein ha-olam omed), "If it weren't for jealousy (i.e., competitiveness), the world could not exist." According to the Rabbis of the Talmud (Baba Batra, 21a), this idea applies specifically to writers, (kin'at soferim tarbeh hokhmah), "Jealousy among writers increases wisdom." Ostensibly, the urge to outdo one's fellow writer leads to even deeper insights and more impressive achievements.

What are we to say, finally of the expression (el kanna), a form of the root reserved exclusively for God? In Christian theology, this attribute becomes terrible and terrifying, even deadly. In Jewish thinking, on the other the concept of an envious (and subsequently vengeful) God creates a theological dilemma. While the Torah urges us to "walk in the ways of God" (Deut. 11:20) to achieve holiness and goodness, the rabbis were not keen on promoting the emulation of God's severe and consuming envy as desirable behavior. We leave this interesting discussion to the great scholar Solomon Schechter, to be found in this edition of JHOM.

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