On Jealousy and the Sabbatical Year

Sometimes, we can be very clever. We can figure out ways to avoid the straightforward observance of a commandment. At times, this can be critical, such as the sale of chometz to a non-Jew before Passover. It is legitimate, utilizing a real loophole to save people for whom Passover could be financially ruinous (eg. a supermarket owner).

On such loophole relates to the prohibition of working the fields in the 7th year. The Rabbinate instituted a similar sale of the land for that year, enabling the Jewish "previous" owner to continue to till the fields. In the early years of the state, this measure may have saved some settlements from ruin.

But now, I believe, it is time to stop it. It is time to observe the shemita-sabbatical literally. This is because we are losing out on the most important perspective of our nationhood by using a loophole. We are missing the point, and I don't believe Hashem wants us to miss this point!

Example. This year, my family did not sell chometz. We got rid of it all, and it was an uplifting experience. We felt truly the pressure to clean and the sense of accomplishment when we fulfilled the mitzva in its purest sense. We can only wish the same for the farmers in the Sabbatical! There is a message of true happiness hidden in the Shemita.

You see, the Shemita tells us that the Earth is God's and that all of our accomplishments are with His help. We should never say "It is my actions that have brought me this wealth." By stopping to work the fields, we acknowledge God's ownership of the land, and we state, by our passivity, that we believe it is Him who has given us the blessings of the Earth.

Why is this crucial? What if I really did work super hard? Maybe it WAS my efforts?

No! Once we believe it was our efforts, we fall into the pit of possessiveness. We develop a sense of entitlement, and when others are more successful than us, we become jealous. God is reminding us of a basic truth: Our success is because of the gifts He gave us, including health, talent, land and creativity. Yes, we USED those gifts successfully, but He gave them to us in the first case.

Therefore, there is no need to look at others who succeed and feel jealous. After all, that came from God as well, so why be bitter? Rather, if you feel you have underachieved, look upwards and try harder, or smarter.

By eliminating the sense of possessiveness which leads to entitlement, we inoculate ourselves from jealousy, the most destructive emotion. That is the true message of the Sabbatical year, and a lesson that can only be learned viscerally by observing it properly.

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!