Fishing for Compliments?
Judaism and the Evil Eye

"And let them grow like fishes
into a multitude in the midst of the earth."
Bereshis 48:16
[This means that] as the fishes in the sea are covered by the waters
no eye has any power over them"
Bava Basra 118a

We like to be admired: for our looks, clothing, and accomplishments, even our chesed. That admiration, however, may come at a cost. The ayin hara, los ojus, the Evil Eye, is a very real destructive spiritual force of nature aroused by envy. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler states that the force of evil is provoked when we flaunt our good fortune, causing anguish to one who feels less advantaged.

The arousal of the Evil Eye often brings suffering to the provocateur. This is how it works: a couple is blessed with an elegant home where they entertain generously and lavishly. The most respected members of the community and sought after visitors are their regular guests.

Their neighbor is a lonely, less refined man who may feel the hurt of exclusion. Although he does not intend harm, his pain gives the Satan a premise to argue that the couple’s good fortune is undeserved. Heavenly judgment must take the Satan’s accusation into account. This is the “opening” through which the Satan diminishes the good in our lives.

Like Fish, We Can Avoid the Curse of the Evil Eye

We want to continue enjoying our blessings. We also do not want to inadvertently cause pain to others. The Fish shows us how.

The Talmud says that fish are concealed by water, and therefore, are not susceptible to the Evil Eye. By refraining from flaunting our good fortune, and remaining below the surface like the fish, we deprive the Satan's ally of its life force.

There is another way to avoid this destructive energy. If we become givers, says Rav Dessler, we deflect jealousy. By using our gifts to sincerely serve and build others, we engender endorsement instead of envy.

We may have a beautiful home that is open to all, or standing in the community, yet we are careful to treat every member as a valued individual. Our large bank account has a generous checkbook to go with it. Maybe we have many healthy children whom we encourage to do chesed for others in need.

Perhaps we do not even see our bounty, but others do. What gifts do we take for granted, but our friend may feel she lacks?

Beauty, personality, middos, special skills. In a time when we are inundated with “if you have it, flaunt it” mentality, the holy Jew says, if you have it, it there for you to share.

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