If Looks Could Kill--Or Do They?
Jealousy, lust and the [pursuit of] honor remove a person from the world.” (Pirkei Avot 4:21)
I would imagine that the best way to know if you are getting an evil eye is to walk around with a big mirror and flash it before everyone you meet. If people start dropping dead like flies around you, there’s a good chance they’d wished you bad. Ah, but if only it were so easy to ward of all those ill-intentioned people who seem to be subverting our good luck. And so, instead, we walk around with red strings, hamsas, little plastic eyeballs and all sorts of idolatrous amulets meant to keep the demons from our door.
But are soft little eyeballs really something to fear? Well, the Talmud teaches that a person can cause damage just by looking at another's property. It also says that 99 out of 100 people die prematurely from the evil eye. Basically, it means the graveyards are filled with those who were victims of envy. But what did the ancient rabbis know? Right? Weren’t they just as susceptible as everyone else to myth and wives’ tales? But then quantum physics came along and taught us that observation affects reality. The mere act of looking at and sizing up a particle changes it. That certainly offers us something to think about.
Today it’s easier than ever to be jealous and to give evil eyes. All we have to do is spend an hour on Facebook to eat our hearts out reading people’s status updates. But those who cast evil eyes are not immune from backlash themselves; for the sages also teach that the act of giving an evil eye also takes a person out of this world early. The dispenser of poison is not immune to the poison it dishes out. No person is impervious to a daily diet of dioxin. And forgive me for having the temerity to offer up my opinion in the shadow of the great Talmudic rabbis, but I say giving an evil eye also makes one so darn ugly. Jealousy hangs on one’s face like a dreadful accessory that just does not match any decent outfit.
Jealousy/coveting never ends well. In fact, the Talmud teaches that anyone who places his eyes on that which is not his is not given what he desires and loses what he has, as we can see in this week’s Torah reading. Korach, after whom the parashah is titled, was Moses’ cousin as well as being extremely rich. He had 300 mules just to carry the keys to his treasures. But why should that be enough? He still envied Moses and Aharon and struck up a rebellion. The earth-shattering results from such mutiny were unprecedented: the earth itself opened and swallowed him up along with those who supported him.
It was not the first case of jealousy gone wrong nor the last: The rabbis teach that upon creation, the moon was envious of the sun and questioned why the sky needed two great luminaries, and so G-d diminished the light of the moon; Cain envied Abel’s sacrifice to G-d and as a result he was cursed by G-d; the primordial snake which once talked and walked, envied Adam’s relationship with Eve, with the result that G-d punished him and made him crawl the earth, eat dirt and caused hatred between him and the woman; And make no mistake about it, the moon, Cain, the snake and Korach each had tremendous potential and talents and each had great destinies of their own if they would have been busy being the best versions of themselves instead of trying to be someone else.
We are so busy with identity theft in the sense that we want to live the lives of others, look like another, walk and talk like them, dress like them, spend like them, that we become impostors, when our real very special selves are being smothered to death. In effect, we are really committing suicide and like aliens assuming others' identities. But make no mistake about it. We will always be the cheap wannabee knock off. All the while we feign living their life, thinking we’re living the “high life,” when in fact we are just a “lowlife”; for coveting is the biggest sin of all the Ten Commandments because it leads to the violation of all the others. If you envy you will eventually lie, cheat, steal, kill, betray, etc.
So, what is the remedy?
🐟Firstly, you can avoid looking like Cruella if you acknowledge and have faith that every person has exactly what G-d wants him to have, not one hair less or more. He knows what’s best for each of us and tests us each in a unique way.
🐟Secondly, try being happy for people when things go well for them. Instead of being like the people of Sodom, a society which begrudged each other the very air they breathed—be magnanimous. The Sodomites were consumed by their burning envy and it is no wonder that they were destroyed by sulfuric fire. In fact, we are instructed to pray for the needs of others before our own needs. Such beneficence toward others inspires Divine benevolence toward us.
🐟Thirdly, be like a fish. In the Talmud it says that fish are resistant of the evil eye because they are under the water—what is hidden is impervious to ill-wishers. What is hidden has a chance to be blessed like a seed that grows beneath the earth. The philosophy of “when you got it, flaunt it” may not be so cost efficient when it all adds up. Drape yourself in modesty and humility so that you don’t have to accoutre yourself with 100 pounds of ridiculous amulets to ward off ill wishes.
🐟Fourthly, as they say, "Be careful what you wish for." Not all things are as they appear. You covet your neighbor because your view is framed by ignorance. Know his full lot, understand his full package and you may soon find yourself pitying your neighbor instead.
🐟And finally, the best counter to all evil is keeping the commandments, doing good deeds, giving charity and studying the Torah.
Just put your ear to YOUR own life and hear your own calling. Keep in mind that upon judgment day we will not be asked why we weren’t as good others but rather we will be asked, “Why weren’t you as good as YOU could have been?” Enough with jealousy and identity theft! Be the best version of YOU! It will be pretty sad on Judgement Day when your own life story will be played before your eyes and you are not even in it and are costumed as someone else.