“Oh, what a beautiful baby!” a woman says to another.

Kayn ayin harah,” the mother replies, “There shouldn’t be an evil eye!”

What a strange reaction this is! Wouldn’t “thank you” be sufficient and proper?

There is a part of Jewish tradition that believes firmly in the power of ayin harah (the evil eye). There are a number of varying opinions about what exactly is an ayin harah. Some believe it is a curse that a person may put on another–for instance a curse against a wealthy person that his business should fail. Others define it as an emotional or psychological state. All sources, however, agree that ayin harah draws its power from envy and jealousy.

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler (1892-1954, England/Israel) once explained that the purpose of ayin harah is to instill humility in each person. One must recognize that the things with which one has been blessed are gifts from G-d and no one should flaunt their gifts, lest it cause pain to others.

To protect themselves and their loved ones from the evil eye, many people will add the phrase “bli ayin harah” (without the evil eye) to statements they make about their own fortunate situations (number of children, wealth, age, etc) or will respond “kayn ayin harah” (against the evil eye) to statements of praise made to them by others. This is sometimes accompanied by “spitting” three times (poo, poo, poo) over the left shoulder!

Amulets and charms against the evil eye were common in centuries past, and several have remained common talismans to this day, such as the hamsa. Recently, it has become popular to wear (around one’s left wrist) a section of a red string that had been previously strung around the tomb of the matriarch Rachel. More often than not, however, these red strings have never been within 10 miles of Rachel’s Tomb!

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