Solomon b. Judah Ibn Gabirol of Cordova, one of the greatest medieval Spanish Jewish poets (first half of 11th century), did more than anyone else for the dissemination of Hebrew poetry. He was active in all the fields of religious lyric, producing hymns and meditations, selihot (penitential prayers), prayers, qinot (dirges) and hopeful, longing visions of the future in varied forms and styles. The most valuable poetic achievement, in which religious, national and philosophical writing are combined into a harmonious whole, is his great didactic poem Keter Malkhut, "The Kingly Crown," whose concluding confession is included in the Yom Kippur service.

In addition to his religious poetry, Ibn Gabirol produced philosophical works, including Fountain of Life (which was hotly debated among Christian philosophers although it had little influence on Jewish thought), and treatises on ethics.

One of Gabirol’s earliest literary works, Mibhar ha-Peninim (The Choice of Pearls), was a small book of maxims derived almost entirely from non-Jewish sources. This very popular publication, written originally in Arabic, enjoyed enduring popularity throughout Israel in its later Hebrew translation. We include here the maxim “Concerning Envy.”

Envy is to men like bodily ailments – it leads to consumption. I have not seen one who hurts himself more than does the envious person; his mourning is unceasing, his soul grieves, his intellect deteriorates and his heart is disquieted.

Everybody can eat with satisfaction except the man who envies good fortune; for he is only pleased by the misfortune (of others).

Every enmity has the possibility of cure, except the enmity of he who hates you from envy. Envy not your brother for what he has; he enjoys his life while you are sated with vexation and unrest. You have sufficient revenge of the envious person that he grieves over you happiness and good fortunes.

"Envy is rot to the bones."
(Proverbs 14:30)

Ibn Gabirol’s treatise on ethics, The Improvement of Moral Qualities (written originally in Arabic; 1045), is the first systematic account by any Jewish author of the various human impulses, and the manner in which they can be channeled into virtue or neglected in favor of vice. The most striking feature of the treatise is that it never so much as mentions the Talmudic sages, and instead frequently quotes the Greek and Arabic philosophies. While the excerpt above focuses on the envy of others good fortune or achievements, the paragraph “On Envy” in this treatise deals with envy of physical possessions.

Envy is an offshoot of wrath. Most rational beings are not exempt from it: but it is in them all, for we see men seeking to imitate the actions of their companions. For instance, when one (man) sees that his friend has acquired some worldly gain, mineral, animal or vegetable, or other possessions, he likewise endeavors to acquire similar things, although he should be able to dispense with them or compensate himself with other things in their stead. Let him not protract his endeavor, not set his heart upon attaining such possessions.

"Envy, greed and thirst for honor
remove a man from the world."

(Ethics of the Fathers 4:28)



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