The Evil Eye
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 and stays put. 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, “Oh, great.” Sure enough a skin-headed sleeveless tough comes out of the truck, fists clenched. Hubby lamely laments, “OK … 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 tough 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 Caddy 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.”
I always think of this commercial and how it relates to the Evil Eye. In Judaism we have a notion of the Evil Eye and it is a subject that has drawn great fascination over the years. So much so these days that 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, even claiming at one point that most people 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. Hmm, that is a head scratcher. So which 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 Evil Eye is in the relationship between misfortune and how that might be tied to how much publicity surrounds 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 and there is nothing wrong with enjoying God’s blessings to you. However, if that good thing creates bad feelings or ill-will in others that you could have prevented – and that is the key here, that you could have prevented – then there needs to be a reassessment by God to see if you are still deserving of that wonderful thing in your life.
You see, God initially judged that you should have a particular success and good in one set of circumstances. However if you turn around and now utilize that success or good to make others feel bad, incomplete or lacking, then He may now feel you are no longer deserving of that particular good nor that you should still have it, now that it is being used to create something harmful in another. Since “man proposes and God disposes”, every good in life is ultimately because God deemed it so. So if that good in now creating jealousy and inadequacy in another, then there is a reassessment on the original gift and He might arrange for you to lose it or that it gets damaged.
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 the reason that Judaism sees modesty as one of the noblest of character traits. Rabbi Weinberg zt”l used to sum up the balance between enjoying God’s blessings without being showy about them by saying that “a person should take pleasure, not pride in their good fortune”. Nothing wrong with enjoying and taking pleasure in the wonderful things you have in life, just don’t be in your face about it or think it was all your doing.
It is always a good idea to try to travel under the radar screen and not to attract too much attention to yourself. Whether it is the loud tone of your voice, like those people who speak on their phone in a public setting arrogantly ignoring everyone around them, 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 exotic vacation on Facebook.
Keeping a low profile is succinctly summed up in next week’s Haftara from the prophet Micha:
With what shall I come before the Lord; bow before the Most High, God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with yearling calves? Will God be pleased with thousands of rams, with endless streams of oil? … People, 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.
Judaism values those who keep quiet and who only take center-stage when the opportunity demands it, such as standing up for what is right, moral and true. Otherwise, stay in the background and let the guy in the shiny obnoxious Caddy Escalade take the heat.
Reaching for all of the good things in life
Can provide some surprises I guess
It may be the way we are dressed
These threads that you see mean so little to me
They don’t count when they put us to rest