Note: Pirkei Avot (5:22) associates Bilaam (the protagonist in this week’s Parasha, Balak) with an “evil eye”. A recent Q&A sheds light on this well-known concept.
Dear Rabbi Simon,
Is there a source in Torah for the ayin hora [Evil Eye]? If not, where did the Gemara get the idea from?
The concept of an “evil eye” is hinted to in several places, such as Ex. 30:12 (see Rashi), about taking a census via counting the half shekel coins rather than counting the people outright. Also Gen. 49:22 (see Rashi s.v Benot Tzaadah), that Joseph is impervious to the deleterious effects of the evil eye.
However the concept was likely widespread in ancient times and is not limited to the Torah or Scriptures generally. Although to us it may seem little more than primitive superstition (and indeed a distinguished rabbi told me many years ago that if one takes no heed of the ayin hara—the ayin ha-ra will take no heed of him), the ancients did not “look at it” that way. The Evil Eye was regarded as a fact of life, as we might regard microbes or smoking tobacco as a health risk.
Without wanting to be gratuitously controversial, perhaps a better analogy is anthropogenic global warming: Widely regarded today as a cultural and political article of faith, albeit without definitive evidence. (Some maintain that climate change may be a fact, but the extent to which fossil fuels and the like are responsible is debatable.) In a future generation will they look at our obsessing over carbon emissions as some may regard the Talmudic sensitivity to ayin ha-ra’? Time will tell.
I hope this answers your question.
Rabbi Rashi Simon