In Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers, Rabbi Joshua is quoted saying, “An evil eye (ayin harah), the evil inclination (yetzer harah) and hatred of other people (sinat habree’ot) remove a person from the world (Pirkei Avot 2:16).
Although there is much dispute regarding the meaning of this Mishnah, according to some commentators, the “evil eye” is the negative power of jealousy. Usually this negative emotion is limited to questioning by one person why others see the fulfilment of their desires, while their own desires are left unfulfilled. But, sometimes jealous thoughts become nastier and, in the worst scenario, can lead one to cast a curse on the other person. No matter the level of one’s jealousy, whether negligible or monstrous, the “evil eye” creates a draining negative energy within a person.
The nature of evil desire is also not agreed upon by all, but it is usually considered to refer to an inner-voice that tells a person that doing an incorrect or evil action is really okay to do. Anyone on a diet will recognize it as the internal voice that pushes the dieter to take just one more cookie. The evil inclination makes one feel a sense of freedom, but following those urges most often leaves a person with regret and a negative sense of self.
Hatred of other people is perhaps the most obvious of the three. As is often pointed out, most people hate in others, things that often remind them of themselves.
Rabbi Joshua’s statement that these three things remove a person from the world can be understood in several ways. On a physical level, one could understand this as a warning against hypertension and the other negative physical effects of being angry with the world and with one’s self. On an emotional level, jealousy, seeking personal gratification and feeling hatred for others, separates a person from other people. On a religious level, all three acts insinuate incorrectly that a person has God’s ability to judge or control the world.
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