The Talmud, Bava Metzia 107b, teaches a startling fact: the most probable cause of any illness and death is attributed to ayin hara. What exactly is this phenomenon and why should it have such mind-boggling repercussions? Rabbi Asher Resnick recently wrote about ayin hara and cites Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler in Michtav M’Eliyahu who explains why it is harmful:
One that becomes wealthy should [be sure to] do a mitzvah with some of his money to prevent an ayin hara from damaging it. What exactly is this ayin hara which is spoken about in so many different places? It is clear that if one causes his friend to become jealous of him, he is responsible and liable for the pain he caused him. And this could even cause him to ultimately lose his wealth. He, therefore, needs to do mitzvot to protect himself from difficulties.
The mechanism of the ayin hara is rooted in the spiritual reality of all people being connected to one another. Ayin hara means that one is jealous of another, is bothered by his very being, and [therefore] he wants only bad for him. Since all people’s lives are mutually dependent on one another, it is possible that this will cause the [successful] person’s life to be limited, and thereby more susceptible to injury or damage.
The Maharal taught that even a lack of concern for another can be considered like an ayin hara. Whoever is aware of another’s needs and has the ability to help him, but is uninterested in doing so, is declaring that this other person is irrelevant and superfluous to him.
When one is jealous of another and gazes upon him with an ayin hara, this can cause damage. However, justice demands that this will only happen if the recipient of the ayin hara had previously done something to make himself vulnerable to the ayin hara. One possibility would be that he had caused the first person to be jealous of him in a very specific manner.
Is there any preventive measures we can implement to prevent ayin hara? The Talmudic sage Rav informs us of the solution symbolized by his unique signature – the drawing of a fish. We learn in the Talmud, Berachos 20a, that fish are concealed in water and thus are protected from the evil eye. How does that protection reflect back to man? Water represents learning Torah and performing mitzvos, and by engaging in these pursuits, one is shielded from ayin hara.
Rabbi Moshe Goldberger has just published a kuntres offering a range of suggestions to protect oneself from the ayin hara. Download the eBook, Fish Lessons for Life.