Abundance & Secrets & Evil Eyes

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.


5 thoughts on “Abundance & Secrets & Evil Eyes

  1. I’m always amazed at the things people come up with… In my culture, there is terrible belief when it comes to the evil eye. It has to do with children. You are not allowed to tell children that they are beautiful, not while they are very young. The fear is, supposedly, that the gods will get jealous and curse the babe (with illness, deformity, death… all sorts of horrors). I mean, who thinks of this stuff? And how do they sleep at night?

    1. Coming up with these beliefs is what helps them sleep at night. There are so many horrors that you see on a daily basis, children getting ill, death, illnesses that leave children with deformities, without science to explain it, they desperately needed a way of protecting themselves, so that they can sleep at night knowing they are safe from these horrors.

      1. Yeah, made-up cause-and-effect, along with made-up rules for avoiding that effect, are a horrible way of explaining the world. Even for things that science can’t explain – that’s a terrible alternative. I like quoting this fact about the Middle Ages – they conceived of three categories in terms of science vs god: 1) the natural – things that can be explained through science, whose natural causes and effects we can observe; 2) the supernatural – things that cannot be explained because they are god’s work; 3) the unnatural – things that probably can be explained through science and natural rules, but we don’t yet have that knowledge – we can’t explain it yet, but we’re pretty sure it’s not a miracle.

    2. Many thoughts in response to that, so here’s just one: Is it only children who can be struck by illness, deformity, and death? Are the gods really such juvenile creatures that they will be jealous of a babe’s beauty but not of an adult’s? This is so fucked up, that people would withhold simple acknowledgement of a young child’s beauty, something every child should hear while their selfhood is still developing.

      1. Organized religions are rather clever about their tactics. Putting this kind of nonsense in parents’ heart is the best way to get them to convert and push them to start indoctrinating their children. Why wait until the child is an adult, when you can start infecting them with fear before their brains can defend themselves? It’s despicable.

Leave a Reply to Esther Bernstein Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.