Ayin Harah - The “Evil Eye”

Moshe Ben-Chaim


Rashi states that when the brothers of Joseph came down to Egypt, they were commanded by their father Jacob to enter Egypt through separate entrances so the Ayin Harah should not have power over them. Does this mean that Ayin Harah is a magical force existing in this world? Can people successfully cast a “spell” or curse on someone else? If so, when does a person finally reach this level, and how does he achieve it? We don’t see that God gave this power to anyone, nor has anyone ever witnessed such feats in others. It would be quite cruel of a God to create a destructive force, and not tell the members of the human race that He created this force. Are we just supposed to suffer by it until we figure it out? Would this not contradict the idea that God is just? These types of questions have no rational answer, as the question is based on that which is not true.

Don’t be led to believe something because many others (even Jews) follow it. This is no proof. Many people following a “belief” does not show the belief to be accurate. You must follow your mind.

Assuming a supernatural force is unnecessary here. One should try to give an explanation, which assumes the least. This principle is called “Occam’s Razor”. For example, when we witness a ball being dropped, and it’s bounce keeps diminishing until it finds itself at complete rest, we don’t assume that there is a creature inside the ball moving progressively slower, and this is why the ball behaves as such. We look for a simple, logical explanation. We don’t assume what is unnecessary. If we can explain the phenomena by understanding the nature of the item at hand, we should look no further.

The same applies to Ayin Harah.

Ayin Harah can be explained very simply: It refers to a psychological state of the person. If one says, “My! What a beautiful baby”. Others will say, “Don’t give it an Ayin Harah”. Does this mean that this statement of admiration of an infant can cause some change in the baby? Not at all. Words have no power, other than producing a change in the listener. What might happen is, that another mother will be jealous that this statement wasn’t made about her child, and unconsciously, she develops jealous aggression towards the favored baby or the mother. The unconscious of a person is very cunning; usually going undetected, and needs satisfaction. This jealous mother might unconsciously, “accidentally” pour some of her drink on the mother, or the child. But the act of spilling doesn’t assume a new power in the universe. It is explained as an existing emotion - jealousy. The fact that spilling occurs on the heels of the statement of admiration is not due to a power, but to jealousy acting out through the unconscious. This mother can’t tolerate another child receiving more admiration than hers, and unconsciously pours her drink on the other mother, taking out her aggression.

No mystical explanation of Ayin Harah has to be employed to explain this scenario. A person with chachma (wisdom) of human nature will explain this very easily.


Ayin Harah understood in reference to the Brothers
The same applies to the brothers as they entered Egypt. Jacob knew that his sons were of great stature, as we see that only two of them were able to destroy an entire city. Jacob figured that 10 men of great stature coupled with a foreign appearance walking through the gates of Egypt would raise some eyebrows. Imagine 10 tall foreigners walking through Tel Aviv Airport. Security would definitely be suspicious. There was no reason for the brothers to bring undue suspicion upon themselves. Jacob wisely commanded them to each enter through a separate gate. This would minimize any attention. Jacob’s suggestion was a smart one, and was not based on a fear of mystical powers. Rather, it was based on his understanding of human psychology and the desire for his son’s safety.

Additionally, we find the term “Ayin Tova” in Pirkei Avos (Avos 2:9). The Bartenura and Maimonides both describe Ayin Tovah to be a person who is satisfied with what he has, and the Ayin Harah to means person who is never satisfied. Both Rishonim do not make mention of any mystical powers. Let us follow the Rishonim, and not the simpletons of today’s society.

We must endeavor to catch ourselves when we sense a need to explain something mystically. We should patiently try to understand the Rabbis words with rational thought, not with excited fantasy.