The Evil Eye
We bring it upon ourselves through hubris, self-centeredness and insensitivity to others.
Volkswagen used to have a commercial about their Passat wagon. It featured a young couple at a red light waiting for it to turn green. The light changes but the pick-up truck in front of them does not react; probably busy texting. The impatient woman in the passenger seat mutters to get going since "it is not going to get any greener." She reaches across to the steering wheel and gives the guy a honk.
Hubby immediately says, "Why? (Sigh) Okay honey..." Sure enough a skin-headed sleeveless tough comes out of the truck, fists clenched. Hubby lamely laments, "Here we go ... thanks honey."
As tough-guy makes his way towards the hapless couple in the white wagon, she pleads to lock the doors. However the tough guy walks right past the couple and begins to bang on the tinted window of the snazzy black Cadillac SUV with designer wheel covers who is right behind the Passat, mistakenly thinking he did the honking. Seizing the opportunity, Passat-man pulls out and takes off. The commercial ends with "The VW Passat Wagon – Lowest Ego Emissions of any German-engineered vehicle."
In Judaism we have a notion of the Evil Eye and it is a subject that has drawn great fascination over the years. These days there seems to be a whole industry around jewelry and knick-knacks like red strings, Hamsa protective hands and the like that purport to ward off such negative energy.
The Talmud seems to take the Evil Eye quite seriously at times, saying that people can die from the Evil Eye. On the other hand, it states that anyone who does not believe in it will not be affected by it. So which one is it? Is there something real and authentic to the Evil Eye or is this simply a superstitious creation of bubbies worldwide?
The true meaning of an Evil Eye as it relates to misfortune is dependent on how much publicity surrounds someone's good fortune. If you have something good and wonderful like healthy children, a good job, a beautiful spouse, or a nice car – that is fine and a true gift from the Almighty. However, if that good thing creates bad feelings or ill-will in others that you could have prevented, then there needs to be a reassessment by God to see if you are still deserving of it.
God initially judged that you should have a particular success in one set of circumstances. However if you utilize that success to make others feel bad, incomplete or lacking, then He may now feel you are no longer deserving of that particular good and arrange for you to lose it.
As such, Evil Eye is not some arbitrary force out to get you that would necessitate amulets for protection. Rather, it is the malice that one brings upon oneself through their hubris, self-centeredness and insensitivity to how their good fortune has brought about feelings of inadequacy and unhappiness in others. So, if you are wearing a red string on your wrist to remind you of these truths – fine; but if you are wearing it to ward off evil spirits – not so fine.
This is one of the reasons why Judaism views modesty as one of the noblest of character traits. Rabbi Noah Weinberg zt"l used to often say that a person should take pleasure, not pride, in their good fortune. It’s a good idea to try to travel under the radar screen and not attract too much attention to yourself. Don’t be ostentatious. Whether it is the loud tone of your voice, arrogantly ignoring anyone around you in a public setting, the clothes you wear, the house you dwell in or the car you drive, it is in one's interest to keep a low profile and to exercise a bit of restraint. You might want to think twice before posting your newest luxury acquisition or photo of your expensive dinner on facebook.
As the prophet Micha succinctly said, “He has told you what is good and what God wishes from you: Only to do justice and acts of kindness and to walk humbly with your God.”
Take center-stage when the opportunity demands it, such as standing up for what is right, moral and true. Otherwise, keep a low profile and let the guy in the shiny obnoxious Caddy Escalade take the heat.