Letters Jan. 2018


Reader: Does the Talmud/Torah mention anything about seeing the tunnel and the light after death? Also is there any mention of seeing a loved one/relative greet you after death?

Rabbi:  ואמר רבי חייא בר אבא אמר רבי יוחנן כל הנביאים כולן לא נתנבאו אלא לימות המשיח אבל לעולם הבא עין לא ראתה אלהים זולתך

“And Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: ‘All the prophets only prophesied with regard to the days of the Messiah. However, with regard to the World-to-Come,  it is stated: ‘No eye has seen it, God, aside from You God’ (Isaiah 64:3)” (Talmud Berachos 34b).

The Prophet’s words are from God, making them absolute truths. All other opinions cannot contradict the Prophet. Thus, facts about after death are not within human knowledge.

Ayin Hara: The “Evil Eye”

Rabbi:  For clarification, let’s first identify the popular understanding of Ayin Hara, the “evil eye.” This is the belief in a power possessed by people through which one harms others using their eyes. All kidding aside, when does a harmless infant alter into a vicious adult wielding this power? Where did this child learn this ability and who taught it to him? More to the point, what evidence is there for this power?

In his letter to Marseille, Maimonides teaches that one should accept as true only one of three matters: that which we experience through our “senses,” that which our “intelligence” says must be true like 2+2=4, and that which “Torah” states. Any suggestion that does not comply with one of these three methods of validation, Maimonides says we must not accept as fact. The belief in an evil eye as a power has never been demonstrated (senses), is not arrived at rationally (intelligence) and is not found in the Torah. Therefore, following Judaism's greatest minds, we must dismiss this mystical belief, along with the belief that red strings defend against this imagined force. As the force does not exist, no defense is needed. But red strings (benders) too have never demonstrated any powers. In fact, if one ignites a red string, it will burn. If it cannot protect itself, it cannot protect anything else. 

This same reasoning applies to the belief in protective mezuzas. Quoting the Shulchan Aruch (Gilyon M’harsha, Yoreh Daah, 289) “If one affixes the mezuza for the reason of fulfilling the command, one may consider that as reward for doing so he will be watched by God. But, if one affixes the mezuza solely for protective reasons, it in fact has no guidance, and the mezuza will be as knives in his eyes”. These are very strong words from a respected Torah authority. He is teaching that God is the only source of protection, and that physical objects have no power. Rather, if one feels they do, these objects, even a mezuza, will be the opposite, “knives in his eyes”—something destructive. We say every day, “He (God) alone is the master of wonders”. Maimonides (Hilchos Mezuza, 5:4) calls such people fools for seeking protection through mezuza. He states that they take a command, which is in fact for the lofty purpose of guiding us towards profound ideas on the Unity of God, His love and His service, and they make it into an amulet of physical benefit. Maimonides states they have no share in the next world.

What type of God would create an evil force and not warn His creatures? God does not secretly create harmful powers only for His unassuming human species to fall prey. The Creator is not evil and does not create forces to harm man. The opposite is true, all God does is for man’s benefit: “God is good to all, and His mercies are upon all His creations” (Psalms 145:9).

These notions of evil eyes and other mystical beliefs are imaginations, nothing more. The cause for this belief is human insecurity. This is also the cause of all forms of idolatry. Yet God tells us not to accept such beliefs, omens, witchcraft, as Ibn Ezra says they are falsehoods: “Those with empty brains say ‘Were it not that fortune tellers and magicians were true, the Torah would not prohibit them.' But I (Ibn Ezra) say just the opposite of their words, because the Torah doesn't prohibit that which is true, but it prohibits that which is false. And the proof is the prohibition on idols and statues (Lev. 19:31).”  

Yes, Torah discusses the Ayin Hara, but it simply refers to human nature. One case is when Jacob's sons descended to Egypt. Rashi (Gen. 42:5) says Jacob warned them not to all enter one gate of Egypt, but each son should enter Egypt through a separate gate. Dispersing in the crowd would prevent the Egyptians from casting an evil and suspicious eye upon Jacob’s 10 sons who were of great stature and of foreign dress. Imagine 10 tall Arabs entering Tel Aviv airport. Certainly, people would take notice. Their suspicions—although baseless—could cause harm to the Arabs. Jacob wanted to avoid any undue suspicion of his sons and therefore advised them not to arouse any unnecessary attention. Here, evil eye refers to suspicion, and not to any real power.

On Pirkei Avos 2:11, Rabbi Joshua says that the evil eye ruins one’s life. Rabbeinu Yona comments: “The evil eye refers to a person who is not satisfied with his lot, and he is always eying his rich friend’s possessions, longing to have such wealth himself, and this causes him pain.” The Chumash and Pirkei Avos both explain the evil eye as negative thoughts: either from others or from oneself. But Torah does not suggest that powers exist outside of God. In fact, Torah prohibits the belief in any powers and punishes violators with death. 

Furthermore, our Torah fundamental of Reward and Punishment rejects the evil eye. For God teaches that only those with sins experience mishap or punishments. But believers in the evil eye reject God and claim that even without having sinned, an evil force can cause them in mishap. This false view understands God as a being who will allow harm to visit a totally righteous person, thereby contradicting God’s Torah.

The belief in forces other than God is idolatrous. This was the crime of Egypt. God’s 10 plagues intended to expose Egypt's religious culture as fallacy. God is the sole creator of all existences. As such, nothing can override His exclusive control of the universe.

The Jew’s mandate is to follow an intelligent life based on reason and proof and to dispel all fantasies, regardless of how many religious Jews have adopted such falsehoods. God gave each person intelligence precisely so each person engages it to determine what is true and what is false. Blindly accepting any belief rejects God’s gift of intelligence. Maimonides, Saadia Gaon, the talmudic rabbis, Moses, Kings David and Solomon, and a host of prophets and sages reject the existence of any force in the universe except for God. Then you have today's kabbalists and mystical rabbis who say otherwise. Both views cannot be correct.