Yesterday, I did a big grocery run. I took my empty shopping cart to the supermarket, loaded it up, and then pushed the cart home, now overflowing with bagged products.
On the way home, I passed a corner where there are usually one or two elderly people asking for money. I was flooded with a mixture of feelings – guilt that I don’t have any change to give them, shame that I’m flaunting my “wealth” in the face of others who don’t have, panic that their jealousy would negatively affect my own ability to afford this in future –
And then I stopped.
All three of those feelings are remnants of my upbringing, but although the guilt and shame are unnecessary, the reasons I felt them were reasonable. I do feel bad that I don’t have the ability to give to others, and I do feel bad that my route and lack of car requires me to display the food I’m bringing home. Neither of those needs to induce shame or guilt, though.
But that third one – that one has got to go completely and entirely. Because it’s based on the idea of an “ayin hara,” an evil eye – that if you flaunt your good fortune and others get jealous, their jealousy could cause you to lose your good fortune.
The belief goes that blessing accompanies that which is hidden. When good fortune is made public and touted around, it draws attention to itself. And when others react with jealousy or envy or general disgruntledness at the fact that you have this blessing, Satan perks up and says “hey, why are those people, who after all are sinful and not perfect, enjoying such blessings?”
So Satan goes to God and says, “they don’t deserve your blessings. According to our agreement, you need to punish them for their sins, not allow them to have blessings and abundance.” God, who is after all merciful, doesn’t want to punish his children, so he hems and haws.
But Satan demands a judgement, and God must doff his Merciful Father hat and don his Just King hat.
And then the people whose boasting drew attention to their blessings are judged, and every tiny infraction is seized upon by Satan, and the blessing stops thriving and begins to wither.
So you really don’t want to draw attention to blessings like the ability to do a big grocery run.
It’s also a part of the reason many Orthodox homes look shabby on the outside but are gorgeously decorated with silver and mahogany on the inside (though that’s also connected to fear of actual efforts by those who are jealous, particularly based on the way in pre-war Europe [but like way pre-war and with no evidence that this actually happened outside of myth and legend], non-Jews would frame Jews when they were jealous of the Jews’ wealth, get them arrested and their wealth confiscated – though how that benefits the people who framed the Jews, I’m not sure).
This is also the reason I used to get uncomfortable whenever anyone asked me how many siblings I had. It was taken for granted in the frum community that people would be jealous of our large families, and saying the number would give Satan more factual data to bring before God (that always confused me – aren’t God and Satan omniscient? or something…) There’s a certain transgressive (and slightly guilty) joy now in answering that question honestly and with no attempt at evasion. (Also, hardly anyone is jealous of having eight siblings. They’re more like “thank goodness my large family isn’t that large!”)
I no longer believe that others’ envy will arouse judgement against me. I still think it’s a good idea to not flaunt your good fortune in the face of others less fortunate than you. But I also don’t think that someone’s immediate response upon seeing another’s good fortune is jealousy and ill will.
Approaching the world with love and generosity and empathy and compassion is so much better than approaching it with fear and worry and guardedness.