Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Guest Posting By Chabakuk Elisha - Ayin Hara

Ayin hara (the Evil Eye) maintains a firm place in Jewish culture and practice. Dating back to Biblical times, the Jewish people have been concerned about ayin hara, and attempted to take steps to protect themselves to one degree or another. There are even individuals in contemporary times who are paid to remove the evil eye from people who are concerned that they may be a victim of it. It has its place in the Torah, in the Talmud, in Rishonim, Acharonim, Kabbala, Chassidus, and in Shulchan Aruch. We find it among Ashkenazic culture, Sefardic culture and everything in-between. There are also special sayings, amulets, red strings, fish eyes and other means of combating this unseen danger, but the questions remain: what is it?, should I believe in it?, why should it work?, and isn’t it just some kind of superstition that we should really be smarter than?

Indeed, the concept of ayin hara exists in many ancient cultures and it can very difficult to know what beliefs may have crept into Judaism that originated elsewhere – however, any concept or belief that we find mentioned in so many sources throughout our history cannot be merely swept away as some remnant of paganism that somehow clung to our clothing.

In Judaism we believe in the power of the human. We have been given serious power to build and to destroy on many levels – from hammers and nails, to procreation, to love and hatred, and to change the world with a thought. Jewish law takes speech – a simple word – so seriously that entire sections of Talmud and Halacha are concerned with words. Even G-d relinquishes his final say on matters to the human word in realms of Halacha. This is because words have power. Thoughts also have power. Positive thinking changes things. So does negative thinking. In the Ten Commandments we are forbidden to think or desire certain things – this is because thoughts are real in Yiddishkeit.

And this is all because G-d listens. He listens to our words, He sees our actions and He knows our thoughts. They matter. Life matters, as does everything in it. And that brings us to ayin hara.

To help illustrate the concept of ayin haram I’ll use an example from daily life:

I drive to work most days on the highway. It’s about a 45 mile commute each way, and the traffic signs post speed limits ranging from 45 MPH to 60 MPH. On most days I break that law and cruise along at the speed of traffic somewhere around 75 MPH for much of the time. On many a day I have seen some fellow pulled over at the side of the road with one of those colorful cars that have those flashing bright lights, parked behind him. I always feel terrible for him when I see it – some guy trying to get home is gonna pay dearly – why him?

And the reason why he’s pulled over is simple – wrong place at the wrong time. He simply got caught, while everybody else had the good fortune not to be in the vicinity of the man in uniform.
Similarly, we live our lives cruising above the speed limit – meaning that we benefit from G-d’s benevolence and undeserved goodness. We don’t deserve anything, yet we enjoy the pleasures of undeserved things. Suddenly Reuvain spots his friend Shimon buying a very expensive article, or simply owning a something that Reuvain would have rather owned instead. Reuvain’s a good guy, pays taxes, works hard – why does Shimon deserve it instead of Reuvain?

And he’s right. Shimon didn’t DESERVE it. So what happens is that Reuvain just sent a police car that catches Shimon and busts him for speeding – wham. Ayin Hara. But it doesn’t stop there. Shimon is negatively impacted – but so is Reuvain; Revain now has his own police cars to worry about. (For an interesting piece on the matter see here)

There is a way out though. There is a route that we can take to avoid ayin hara, which is of course, to drive through space instead of the highway. There are two remedies that we find discussed in seforim, which will at least give us some guidance:

1. Do something to deserve a pass. Yes, we all benefit from things that we don’t deserve, but if we add something in Torah and mitzvos, if we try to be a better person and a better Jew, we can offset the ayin hara. I guess we can say we get time off for good behavior.

2. Stay above ayin hara altogether. It is well known that “One who does not place himself under Ayin Hara cannot be harmed by it.” This is usually understood to mean that it’s like voodoo – and that if you don’t believe in it doesn’t work – but I once heard in the name of Rav Elazar Mordechai Kenig that this is an incorrect understanding, and that what the statement actually means is: if one doesn’t look at others with an ayin hara, than he cannot be harmed by it.


At August 18, 2009 at 11:08:00 AM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Very interesting. When I was learning in E"Y I remember hearing that doors were painted blue to ward away the Ayin Hara, too. Any thougths on why the color blue as opposed to red (like a bendel)?

At August 18, 2009 at 2:18:00 PM EDT, Blogger Jen said...

Wow. Thank you for this explanation. I never knew what Ayin Hara was until now. I realize I have a lot of work to do on myself.

Can someone elaborate on the line "Even G-d relinquishes his final say on matters to the human word in realms of Halacha." I read this two way: 1. We make final rulings and G-d won't tell us which is correct (so we hope we are choosing correctly), or 2. There is no correct ruling, but G-d abides by whatever we decide and holds us to it. #2 is a surprising thought to me, but it's what I initally took the line to mean.

At August 18, 2009 at 7:26:00 PM EDT, Blogger Unknown said...

"The evil eye has no power over the eye that did not want to feed itself on that which did not belong to it."
Berachos, 20a

Jen, for an elaboration on how God gives over the final word in Halacha to man, see Parshas Shoftim, (Deut. 17:10)and www.youtube.com/betzalel153 "It's not in Heaven - Deciding the Law."

At August 19, 2009 at 7:20:00 AM EDT, Anonymous effie said...

ain habracha metzuya elah b'davar hasamuy min ha'ayin - one of the the best remedies against ayin harah is keep away from social exposure. jealousy is flying around everywhere - classmates, family members, co-workers, neighbours, "friends"; it makes for a lich'ora much more "boring" life, but much safer. learn to get your thrills from meaningful activities such as chesed, teffila, learning, spending time with your children..

At August 19, 2009 at 11:40:00 AM EDT, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

I've heard that too, but I have no knowledge as to why the different colors, or why these specific things should, or if they do, help.

We belive that #2 is pretty much the case - but don't foget that G-d plays a role in the outcome (Divine Providence).

R' Betzael,
Thank you very much for that quote -- had I been aware of it, I would have incuded it!

We definitely need to prioritize meaningful things ahead being a socialite (as long as we don’t overdo it). The main thing that I would say is that as far as self-protection is concerned, we should be careful not to flaunt or talk much about ourselves.

At August 21, 2009 at 9:47:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What goes around comes around.

A mashpia once told me that when someone has something we want and we feel jealous to try really truly wish them more and more of the same.

When we feel jealous its a sign we need to work harder. Just use it as a tool.


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