Jealousy and the Evil Eye

The long and the short of it is that we do, with reservations. European Jews are always saying, "keneyna hara.” That means, "Let there be no evil eye!" It's even mentioned in the Talmud. And the Talmud gives us a remedy as well. What is it?

The Talmud instructs us to clasp our hands and recite the following formula: "I am a descendent of Joseph the righteous, and therefore the evil eye has no power over me." Then a biblical verse is to be recited, and the person has nothing to fear.

How does this work?

Abraham was given the power to bless. He was, for all intents and purposes, God's conduit for blessing. How was this so?

In order for a blessing to take place, there must be some good to begin with. Blessing means increase, as we have previously noted in another entry, so it increases an already existing good.

Other people may see the blessings we have and react to them in one of two ways. They can either be jealous of the blessing, or rejoice in our good fortune. The jealous types will curse, and the generous types will bless. The former wants to destroy our blessing, the latter wants to increase it.

When a jealous person sees another's success, their jealousy is the equivalent of the evil eye. In fact, it is the definition of it. An eye looks at something, examines it. The evil eye, in effect, is asking a very difficult question: "Does this person really deserve this blessing?"

And then, in heaven, ever sensitive to the needs of fairness, this person's blessing is examined. Just like a blessing requires something to grow from, so, too, a curse requires something to destroy from. If there is anything imperfect in the blessing, or its recipient, the evil eye's curse has upon what to take hold. Heaven may remove the blessing because of the accusation called "evil eye".

Abraham always saw the good in others, and thus had the power to bless. He found the good points, was generous of nature, and was God's conduit for blessing. Joseph, however, was even more powerful. He defeated the evil eye time and time again. Let's look at his story briefly.

Starting with his father's favoritism, Joseph was the victim of the evil eye of his brothers. He could have been bitter towards them, thus creating the negative energy that their evil eye could use to destroy him. He didn't, and his first example of immunity to the evil eye was demonstrated. Later, when Potiphar's wife cast her eye upon him, he defeated it by not succumbing to her temptations.

Finally, when he was blessed with the leadership of Egypt, he never gave in to pettiness, never resented anyone else's success, and never sought to take revenge against those who caused him harm. Thus, he defeated the evil eye at every turn.

That is how we can, too. By always being positive, never being vindictive or jealous, we following Joseph's footsteps. This little Talmudic gesture is meant to remind us of that, and not simply a "counter voodoo technique."

Never hesitate to bless, never hesitate to rejoice in others success. Always be a conduit of positive energy, and you will be immune to the evil eye when success comes your way! May this happen soon!

Bragging and the Evil Eye

The Talmud says that if a person fears the evil eye, they should wrap their thumbs in the palms of their hands and say, "I, so-and-so the child of so-and-so, am a descendent of the seed of Joseph. The evil eye has no power over me." There then follows a verse from the Bible implying that Joseph was above the evil eye.

This is just strange. First of all, most Jews today are not the descendents of Joseph at all, but rather from Judah or Levi. Why, then, does the Talmud encourage every individual to claim Joseph's lineage?

But what puzzles me more is the assumption that Joseph, above all others, surpasses the evil eye. When reading the stories, it seems that he suffered from it more than anyone else. He bragged about his dreams, he flaunted his colorful coat, and the evil eye came back to haunt him. His brothers sold him off the slavery in Egypt. His master's wife framed him and had him thrown in jail. And when he gave a favorable dream interpretation to the king's butler, the butler forgot all about him and he languished in jail for two more years. That sounds to me like the consequences of evil eye, which draws its power from jealousy.

So how can Joseph be the ultimate evil eye conqueror? One answer lies in the idea that a person most truly possesses a trait that they have earned, not inherited. Joseph suffering at the hands of the evil eye caused by jealous people was in the first part of his life. Once he arrived at Pharaoh's throne, there was no more evil eye. From then on, Joseph was truly ascendant. He had earned his trophy for defeating the evil eye.

That is a possible explanation, however it doesn't give me the information I need to know. How did Joseph eventually transcend the evil eye? And why does Joe Israeli have the right to claim that he is a descendent of Joseph, when that is genealogically questionable at best?

In order to achieve a more resounding answer, I would like to raise another question. Joseph was a smart fellow. When he had his childhood dreams of the corn stalks and stars bowing to him, he must have known that this would inflame his brothers. He must have known that they were already deeply jealous of him for being his father's favorite son, and that they resented the favoritism. His colored coat made his brothers see red.

So why did Joseph insist on telling his brothers these dreams? Was he trying to make them even more jealous? And why did Jacob make the classic parenting error of showing favoritism to one child over the others?

The answer sheds light on Joseph's entire worldview, and a glorious one it is! Let's start with Jacob. Most parents wish for their children to be more successful than they. Isaac, for example, placed great hope in Esau, because he felt that Esau was more capable of succeeding in the world than he had been. Isaac had been a fairly passive person, and so Esau, the hunter and man of the world, gave Isaac hope.

Jacob had suffered hatred. Esau wanted to kill him. Laban tricked him and took advantage of him. He struggled with angels and men. He did not feel loved at all. So along comes Joseph, the son of his beloved wife Rachel. Joseph is a very good-looking boy. It is a known fact that people are positively inclined towards attractive people. Jacob wanted to enhance this, by giving his son a beautiful coat. He was doing everything he could to ensure that Joseph would succeed where he failed, being loved. Because, reasoned Jacob, if the world loves you, you can influence it. Joseph could be another Abraham, beloved, influential.

And Jacob was right. In the end, Joseph's grace won out and he was able to save an entire empire. He saved countless lives, and if some historical theories are to be believed, made monotheism a popular belief in pagan Egypt.

So why did he tell the dreams to his jealous brothers? According to the Or Hachaim commentary, he did it precisely so that they would not be jealous. Joseph understood why his father favored him. He was possessed with a sense of mission, and nothing will deter him from that mission. At the end of the episode, Joseph comforts his brothers with the assurance that their selling him into slavery merely fulfilled God's plan. They need feel no guilt. This is Joseph's life theme: everything that happens is God's plan. I put my personal feelings aside, and seek out God's mission in every life situation.

By telling them the dreams, Joseph was saying that their father's favoritism had God's sanction. God gave the dreams to prove it was part of the divine mission that he should be the powerful one. The brothers must rise above their personal jealousies and see the glory of God's tasks.

Joseph walked the walk. Everywhere he went, whether he was second to the king or just an anonymous prisoner, he devoted himself to helping all he could. During his years in prison, he served the other prisoners. This is where God put him, this is where he would serve. The only time that Joseph allowed himself to put his personal feelings in play brought about a punishment. He had asked the butler to tell Pharaoh about him so that he may be released. This amounted to Joseph questioning the value of his being in jail. As a result, the Torah stresses that the butler forgot, and Joseph languished two more years in that prison.

The evil eye is a result of jealousy. Jealousy is a feeling of "Him versus me." It is a win or lose mindset. Thus, when one boasts of their accomplishments and their possessions, those who have less hear in those words a claim of victory. They hear, "I have more than you, I win."

Joseph, on the other hand, says with his whole life, "I win, we win. No one loses." He was pleading with his brothers to recognize that his success was their success. Jacob was looking out for all of them by giving Joseph every opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Abraham and lead humanity, together, to God.

Thus, when we claim to be the descendents of Joseph, we are accessing this exact worldview. A parent is never jealous of their children. We are Joseph's children, meaning that we reject jealousy. The Talmud requires a physical gesture, wrapping our thumbs around each other and inside the palms of our hands. Without this gesture, the statement does not have power. The gesture, to my mind, indicates Joseph's worldview. It is saying a big, loud, "Us!" We wrap our thumbs around each other, we embrace each other. If I have success, it is yours as well. I live outward, not inward. When a person commits to this ideal, they become like the children of Joseph, immune to petty jealousy.

One third observation. I could say that Joseph did indeed suffer from the evil eye, but this Talmudic statement does not guarantee immunity. It guarantees that whatever the evil eye could wreak, it could not derail me from my mission. Whenever Joseph suffered, he used the opportunity to fulfill his mission. Whether in jail or the king's mansion, no evil eye could stop Joseph from trying to lead humanity together to God.