Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Evil Eye

There were about a dozen women at the special spot inside the Kotel tunnels. Some were regulars and others were new faces. A few were deep in meditation. Others were busy reciting the morning prayers or chapters of psalms. I hadn’t been there long when a woman I had never seen before arrived. She was about my age and seemed quite comfortable to be at the special spot. Perhaps she was another regular, just not on the days I usually came. Her face was beaming and she was all smiles. She opened her mouth to speak and instead of a soft, whispery voice she addressed us in an enthusiastic tone.

“I just have to share my joy with you,” she announced happily. “Last night my grandson got engaged and on Shabbat we celebrated another grandson’s marriage. I’m so happy!”

Some of the women smiled and nodded their heads.  Others stopped their prayers to wish her mazel tov. I, however, stared at the woman in shock.  Wasn’t she afraid of the Evil Eye?

As a girl I thought the Evil Eye was some superstitious nonsense from the Yentes of Fiddler on the Roof and her ilk. That was before my middle child was born. This particular child was only a month old when he began sleeping through the night. It was not a measly seven or eight hour night, either. It was twelve good hours and I was waking up each morning full of energy to face all the tasks and responsibilities of the coming day. A week later I bumped into an acquaintance with a six-month-old and she asked me how my baby was doing.

Without thinking I told her. “He’s sleeping through the night!” I gushed.  The minute the words were out of my mouth I wished I could have taken them back. The look on the other woman’s face was one of pure, I’m not sure if I could call it envy or jealousy, but it certainly held no joy for my good fortune.

That night my baby woke in the middle of the night. Probably a fluke I reassured myself. The next night he also awoke. Maybe I’d eaten something he didn’t like? After the third night I was resolved. Rubbing my eyes I dialed the number of my acquaintance. There were a few minutes of chit chat.

“How was Shabbat?”

“Fine, by you?”

“Great, the kids are ok?”

“Yes, and yours?”

“Okay,” I hesitated. “But you don’t have to be envious anymore. The baby stopped sleeping through the night.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” She did sound sincere. “I do have to admit I was jealous. Mine is still getting up twice a night.”

“I hope he’ll start sleeping soon,” I told her.

“I hope yours does, too.”

We hung up and guess what, my baby slept through the night again that night and the night after and the night after that.

I began to take a second look at this Evil Eye idea. In Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, which are learned on the long, summer Shabbat afternoons the Evil Eye is mentioned.

Whoever has the following three traits is among the disciples of Avraham; and [whoever has] three different traits is among the disciples of the wicked Balaam. Those who have a good eye, a humble spirit, and an undemanding soul are the disciples of our forefather Avraham. Those who have an evil eye, and arrogant spirit, and a greedy soul are the disciples of the wicked Balaam.

I had known who Avraham was since I was a little girl in religious school. Balaam was a new figure for me, though. I learned that he was the non-Jewish prophet who knew how to curse but not how to bless. He was hired by Balak, king of Moav, to curse the Jewish people who, under the leadership of Moshe, were advancing towards Canaan to inherit the Land of Israel. (see the Torah portion Balak in Numbers for more information.)    

Not only did Balaam know only how to curse and not to bless, tradition teaches us that he only had one eye, the evil one. According to a lecture from Rav Leff, shilta, I learned that we all need two eyes, one to see the good and one to sometimes see the bad so we can fix it.

A person using his good eye will see the positive, be happy with the blessings of others, and generally be a contented person. The one with an evil eye will be pessimistic and petty, jealous of others’ good fortune, and by and large a miserable person. There are those who believe his negative energy can affect others. Others believe that this negative energy can have no affect on someone who is full of good deeds.

The woman from the Kotel Tunnels is probably a woman full of good deeds and wasn’t worried about the Evil Eye. Still, I wondered how my friend with four unmarried daughters aged thirty to forty would have reacted to her good news  had she been there? How would the grandmother who had seen her grandson just go through a horrible divorce feel? Would they be able to share the woman’s happiness or would they have pangs of jealousy?

I have learned that when one is at the height of happiness it is an opportune time to bless others. That is why guests line up before the brides and grooms at weddings and in front of the sandeks, the godfathers, at brit milahs. They want to receive a blessing from someone whose cup of joy is full. The happy grandmother was in the perfect position to pray for others who needed to find their perfect match. Hopefully she seized that opportunity and in doing so foiled whatever power The Evil Eye may have had over her.

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