22 Jun THE POISONOUS TRAIT OF A NEGATIVE ATTITUDE
When Balak, king of Moav, saw that the great giants Sichon and Og fell to the Bnei Yisroel, he was filled with terror. These giants who were born before the Great Flood and had dinosaur-like dimensions (Sichon was actually born in the ark) and were Balak’s safety buffers from the Bnei Yisroel. When they were squashed, he felt very vulnerable and very afraid. He therefore took the drastic step to hire the prophet, Bilam, to curse the Bnei Yisroel. He sent Bilam the following message, “Ki yidativ eis asher tevoraich m’vorach v’eis asher ta’or yu’ar – For I know, he who you bless is blessed and he who you curse will be cursed.”
The Masuk Haor asks two questions. First, why didn’t Balak ask Bilam to bless Moav with security and serenity rather than asking him to curse the Bnei Yisroel? Second, why did he change tenses and say to Bilam that he who you bless is blessed while he who you curse will be cursed? He answers with the following idea. Balak’s entire strength, as the Gemora explains, is that he was able to pinpoint the exact rega, second, that Hashem gets angry, and at that moment his curses were extremely effective. Balak knew that Bilam did not have the power to issue blessings. It is for this reason that he said, “I know if you bless someone and it works it was because he was already blessed. It has nothing to do with you. But I know if you curse someone, he will be cursed because that is your expertise.”
This is what the Mishna says in Pirkei Avos in the fifth Perek, Mishna 22. Bilam had an ayin ra’ah, an evil eye. He always saw the bad, not the good. The Mishna says that anyone who has such a trait is a disciple of Bilam and will likely end up in Gehenom. Pirkei Avos has a lot to say about this poor character trait. In the second Perek, Mishna 14, the great Reb Yochanan ben Zakai asked his elite disciples to investigate what is the worst character trait that a person can have. Reb Eliezer answers ayin ra’ah, the evil eye. Just two Mishnas later, in the 16th Mishna, Reb Yehoshua says that, “Ayin ha’rah, yetzer ha’rah, v’sinas habrios motzein es ha’adam min haolom – The evil eye, evil inclination, and hatred expels a person from this world.” Imagine, the evil eye is mentioned before the evil inclination! That’s how dangerous a negative look is.
The person with a “negative look” sees the Catskills stores making a killing in business and reacts grudgingly. “They are overcharging and taking advantage of me”. Similarly, one with an evil eye sees his friend getting a new summer home and declares, “What an ostentatious fellow!” He eyes his neighbor with a late model car and comments to his wife, “What a pampered and spoiled individual.” People with an evil eye always see the dark side of life, what they are missing and not what they have. This is one of the reasons why the Mishna says it expels the person from this world – because these people are perpetually unhappy and melancholy dissatisfied and irritable. These are all recipes for all kinds of ill health.
It is important from a young age to cultivate in our children a positive attitude towards life and the ability to enjoy other people’s advantages. My good friend, Yossi Tov, a.k.a. Country Yossi, crafted a beautiful song where he teaches the children to fargin, fargin, fargin. This is a Yiddish word which means not to look begrudgingly at other people’s prosperity. Not to be envious of friends going to Florida during winter break even if you can’t, to be happy for those going to camp even if you have to stay home, and for the older children to enjoy if someone becomes a Chosson or Kallah even if they are still single. The Mishna tells us that one who embraces such an attitude is a true disciple of Avraham and will have good in this world and in the Next.
An evil eye is especially important to avoid between husband and wife. If a spouse dwells over every negative move their partner makes, they will be doomed to perennial unhappiness. The marriage partner that can look away from momentary lapses will save him or herself much grief. They will also be recipients of the great reward. “Kol hamavir al midosav mavirin mimenu al kol pisha’auv – Whoever overlooks what is they’re due, Hashem will overlook all of their sins.” Furthermore, a spouse who is jealous over their partner’s happiness cannot be expected to help further their mate’s happiness. If a wife constantly sees the bad in her husband, she can’t successfully be an eizer, a helper; nor can a husband who focuses on the bad in his wife successfully fulfill “v’simach es ishto”, to gladden his wife. For with negative feelings one to another, it is unlikely they will be instrumental in furthering each other’s happiness. How wonderful it is to cultivate in marriage a Teflon personality, where the small nuisances of life slip off and are not made a big deal of. This is a work of a lifetime, but it is oh so worth it.
May Hashem bless us with an attitude of, “V’ahavta l’reicha k’mocha,” to love our friends like ourselves and to be happy for their advantages as if they were our own, and may we always see the cup half full instead of half empty. In that merit, may we blessed with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.