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The Eyes Have It

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Topic: The Eyes Have It

From: Sue Perstishous in Salem, Massachusetts

Dear Rabbi,
After recently saying "bli ayin hara" ("without an evil eye"), I was wondering, "What is an ayin hara?

Dear Sue,

The belief in ayin hara ("evil eye") is not a superstition but is well-founded on references from the earliest Jewish texts. Sarah "gives" Hagar an ayin hara, causing her to miscarry her first pregnancy. Yaakov warns his sons not to be seen together so as not to incur ayin hara. Another example is King Saul's jealousy of the future King David who is credited with greater military prowess and "gives" him an ayin hara.

The Talmud quotes Rabbi Yochanan as saying "I am a descendant of Yosef over whom ayin hara had no control." The Talmud also says that fish represent a form of life that is free of the influence of ayin hara. Ayin hara also has halachic ramifications. The Talmud states that it is forbidden to stand in a neighbor's field when the crops are fully grown. Rashi explains that this is because of ayin hara.

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler in a letter to his father asked "Where is the justice in a system that causes people to suffer for the jealousies of others?" Rabbi Dessler answered that what happens is the following: One person who has what another person lacks is "careless" and lets the other person see what he has. This causes pain to the other person, and his cry goes up to the Heavenly court. The lesson in all this is that we must learn to be sensitive to others, and not flaunt what we have. Many people yearn to have what others have, and suffer real pain when they see others casually flaunt those things. True, they shouldn't be jealous, but we cannot expect everyone to be a tzaddik righteous person. Divine justice demands retribution for causing this pain to another person.

You mention that you say "bli ayin hara" (literally: "without the evil eye"). In Yiddish it is rendered as "ken ayin hara." We say this as a prayer to Hashem, so that if there are any silent cries going up to the Heavenly court, He will not listen to them, and He will protect us from any harm. There are other ayin hara "antidotes" such as tying red strings around one's wrist, and the Hamsa ("Five-Fingers") symbol. Be careful not to use any remedy or prevention unless it is commonly used by Jews, since some practices are forms of witchcraft. The best protection is to behave modestly and with a genuine concern for the feelings of others.

Bereishet 16:5, Rashi
Bereishet 42:5, Rashi
Shmuel 1,18:9
Tractate Berachot 20a
Tractate Bava Batra 141a, 2b
Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler in Michtav M'Eliyahu, vol. 3, pp.313-314; vol. 4, pp5-6

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